The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 22, 2009

Concerns rising over math rules

Bill would soften new math test requirement

By Tanner Kent

MANKATO — A bill introduced recently in the state Senate might provide relief for the thousands of Minnesota high-schoolers in jeopardy of not graduating because of a new math test.

The new test is part of the state’s Graduation Required Assessments for Diploma program that replaces the Basic Skills Tests. The class of 2010 will be the first to graduate under the new program, which includes a writing test in ninth grade, reading test in 10th and the math test in 11th.

But during last year’s test, only one-third of Minnesota juniors scored at or above proficiency on the state’s MCA-II math test. And because the GRAD test is embedded into the MCA-II, it appears two-thirds of graduating students in 2010 may be ineligible for diplomas.

“The bottom line is that the majority of Minnesota’s 11th-graders are probably not going to meet the proficiency level,” said Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, who authored the bill after several task force meetings on the topic in December. “Rigor has hit reality. It’s time to look at short-term ways to address this.”

Wiger’s bill would give those student who fail the math test an alternate route to graduation. Provided that students submit to some kind of math remediation, complete all other credit and class requirements, and retake the test at least twice, students could still get their diplomas.

To Gwen Walz, assessment coordinator for Mankato schools, the bill sounds like a measure of relief at a time when school districts are still developing math curriculums that focus on higher levels of proficiency.

“People are desperately seeking some sort of workable solution,” Walz said. “Everybody wants higher standards — and I don’t want to invalidate the use of the test — but a lot of us have concerns.”

Walz said there are still many unknowns regarding the new math test. The Minnesota Department of Education has not yet set the cutoff score for graduation — which means no one is quite sure how many students will be in jeopardy when they take the tests in April.

And that poses another problem, Walz said. By the time school districts find out which students need more help — results from the 11th-grade math test will not be available until mid-summer — little time will be left for remediation.

And even then, Walz said, most school districts’ remediation services are not equipped to accommodate a large volume of students.

“In the face of budget cuts and stagnant funding, how is a school district supposed to have the resources to help 50 percent of its seniors?” Walz said. “I’m not sure a test at the end of 11th grade is good for anyone.”