Minnesota education officials this week credited tougher standards and a new online testing system as part of the reason 5 percent more students passed the state's math test this year than last. Brenda Cassellius, the state's education commissioner, predicted that those tougher standards, adopted in 2007, will lead to continued improvement down the road.
Some testing experts in the state suggest, however, that gains this year had more to do with how the new online test was given than anything else.
The nearly 9 out of 10 students in grades 3 through 8 who took the online version of the test had the opportunity to take it up to three times. The highest score was counted.
David Heistad, director of research, evaluation and assessment at the Bloomington Public Schools, told the (Minneapolis) StarTribune that it's equivalent to dealing a card player three cards instead of one, and letting him choose the best one.
“It increases the probability of having a good hand like it increases the probability of a good score,” he said. “The math scores are real problematic this year.”
While the state's Department of Education didn't indicate what percentage of students took the online test multiple times, Keith Hovis, a department spokesman, said it was common for students to take the test multiple times.
Next year, students will be allowed to take the online exam only once, although schools can offer two online practice exams before the state test.
Hovis says seeing multiple test results helped teachers focus on problem areas and practice exams will be similarly helpful next year. “It really helped make the class time and teaching more efficient,” he says.
Questions about Minnesota's math gains come amid controversies about standardized testing in other states this week as well.
The Texas Tribune highlighted findings by a University of Texas professor suggesting that the state's standardized tests are flawed and more focused on ranking students against each other than showing how much students have learned.
In Florida, state Education Commissioner Gerald Robinson resigned Tuesday after facing criticism for how his department handled a huge decline in the percentage of students passing the state's standardized tests and mistakes in the state's grading of schools, according to the Miami Herald.
After tougher standards led to huge declines in passing rates across the state, the department lowered the passing grade in May. Last month, Florida Governor Rick Scott questioned whether students are being tested too much.
Raising the same concerns, a growing number of school districts in Florida and Texas, among other states, have formally protested what they see as excessive state testing, as the Wall Street Journal reported in May.