Minnesotans for Better Education, Standards and Testing

Minnbest is a non-partisan, broad based coalition of parents, educators and school advocacy groups who believe excellent public education is a foundation of democracy in America.


Common sense is the best standard

Posted on Fri, Jan. 07, 2005 St Paul Pioneer Press

Assessments need to be standardized

Where would you rather send your kids to school? Minnesota or Mississippi?

The answer to us is obvious, when we look at objective measures on national standardized tests that consistently put Minnesota and Wisconsin at the top of the academic heap and relegate states like Mississippi and Louisiana to the bottom.

So we'll hold off on the hand-wringing over Education Week's "Quality Counts 2005" report, which concludes that public schools in Tennessee and Louisiana have far fewer "underperforming schools" than Minnesota or Wisconsin. It's all in what you measure and how you make the comparisons.

The federal No Child Left Behind act requires all states to establish academic standards and develop its own tests to measure that state's student academic progress.

The phrase "develop its own tests" deserves special consideration. When states are free to craft their own standards and tests, there can be no national standard for education progress. What Minnesota and Wisconsin describe as "underperforming" schools might well be deemed "making adequate yearly progress" elsewhere. Consequently, we'd feel more confident about such state-to-state assessments if standardized benchmarks were used, such as a standardized test, in addition to graduation rates, poverty levels, English language skills and other variables that affect a child's academic progress.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress gives a consistent national perspective on student achievement in math, science and reading. According to the 2003 test scores, Minnesota eighth-graders were the best in the United States in math proficiency, and fourth-graders ranked second in math proficiency.

When the scores of other nations are ranked, Minnesota kids shine again. Eighth-grade students in Singapore were the only students worldwide to outscore Minnesota eighth-graders on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study assessment. Minnesota and Singapore tied for first place in the world in earth science.

It's not just the 13-year-olds who do well. In 2004, Minnesota tied with Wisconsin for highest average ACT college entrance exam score. Minnesota is second in the country for its number of high school graduates. And it's first in the country with the number of classroom teachers — 86 percent — who have degrees in the fields they teach.

The above statistics don't mean we disagree in principle with the federal law's aim to help all children reach their highest academic potential. A troubling gap continues in Minnesota in the academic achievement levels of minority and nonminority students. NCLB is a federal law without national uniformity, which is both a strength and weakness.

Bear that in mind as you hear national academic comparisons that defy common sense.