More and more parents are electing to opt-out of having their children take the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs), making the exam irrelevant as a performance measure in some districts.
Erin Golden, The Star Tribune’s statewide education reporter, published an in-depth analysis Saturday of participation rates for the MCAs, the state’s largest standardized exam. She found that there are a growing number of schools where more than half the students opt-out of the MCAs.
Under federal law, government schools are required to test at least 95 percent of students, but are also required to let parents take their children out of the exams. But students who opt-out are automatically marked as “not proficient.”
A 2017 report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor – run by James Nobles (pictured above) – reveals that the “level of testing nonparticipation” in some districts, such as Minneapolis Public Schools, has “reached a point where it is no longer appropriate to endorse the test results as a valid measure of district-wide student learning.”
“Tests are still valid at the individual level; a student’s individual test score is not affected by classmate refusals. However, the current level of test refusals makes it impossible to rely on the MCAs to measure important district-level outcomes at the high school level, such as the achievement gap between white and nonwhite students,” the report states.
Between 2015 and 2016, the number of students who opted-out of the MCAs jumped from 2,370 to 5,781. The increasing number of opt-outs “threatens the validity of interpretations made from the data,” the report suggests.
It notes that if the “opt-out movement continues to grow at its current rate, other school districts and charter schools in Minnesota will likely encounter similar problems.” According to Golden, that’s beginning to happen.
In the Menahga Public School District, for instance, more than half of the district’s students declined to take the reading and math MCAs last year.
“Parents have expressed the concern we’re over tested. Parents are concerned about test anxiety of their child, and about taking a one-day, one-moment snapshot,” Superintendent Kevin Wellen said.
The number of opt-outs is particular high for Minneapolis Public Schools. At Patrick Henry High School, for example, 91 percent of students opted-out of the math test while 85 percent skipped the reading test. An average of two-thirds of students at South and Southwest high schools skipped both assessments.
The opt-out rates increase among higher grade levels. For every 10,000 students in 10th and 11th grade, an average of nearly 700 skipped the math exam and an average of the more than 400 skipped the reading exam.
Golden notes that the Minnesota Legislature moved to require districts to post information about the opt-out option on their websites and include it in school handbooks.
“They’re asking the teachers to live or die by the results of this test,” one parent commented. “And we just said: there’s no benefit whatsoever.”
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