Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Couple More Things About HF 638. I neglected to mention a couple of aspects of HF 638, Representative Pam Myhra's (R-Burnsville) bill that would create an "A-to-F" grading system for schools throughout Minnesota. The primary aspect I forgot to mention is that bill provides for a $100 per pupil "award" for buildings that either get an "A" grade or improve by one grade (i.e. a "D" to a "C") in the previous school year. In a time of tight money, this would certainly be an incentive for buildings to improve (or maintain if the building is receiving an "A") student performance.

I also wanted to point out some pertinent comments made by Representative Kory Kath (DFL-Owatonna) when the bill was discussed in the House Education Policy Committee. The gist of Representative Kath's argument is that while a program like this may be applicable in the early grades, it may not readily relate to the high school experience. Representative Kath spoke directly about how the stress on test scores is limiting the breadth of the high school curriculum in many school districts throughout the state.

As many of you know, I have often decried the growing "opportunity gap" that exists inside the boundary of the shadow cast by the "achievement gap" that shows up through the state's testing framework. The "opportunity gap" is more difficult to measure, as it is spread throughout the state in a manner that makes it more difficult to gauge. Electives and other co-curricular and extra-curricular often disappear unevenly throughout the state, making most of the evidence of a growing "opportunity gap" anecdotal and difficult to accurately document. As the Legislature moves forward this year and beyond, I hope a measure of opportunity can be established to augment Minnesota's measures for achievement.

I believe HF 638 does promote a discussion that needs to take place and the debate as we go forward will certainly be interesting. My only hope is that the discussion will be multi-dimensional and focus on all of the things that schools do instead of solely focusing on achievement levels.

Back in the Saddle at the House Education Finance Committee. The House Education Finance Committee is meeting again this afternoon (and likely into the evening after a break for the House floor session) and will be covering five bills. The first being discussed this afternoon is HF 1078 (Garofalo), a bill that would convert the Perpich Center for Arts Education PCAE) from a state academy to a charter school. This would obviously be a disruption for the PCAE, but as Chairmen Garofalo pointed out, money is tight and priorities are going to have to be set.

A bill that will be covered later in the meeting is Representative Keith Downey"s (R-Edina) HF 558, the bill that originally proposed to remove the exemption for the mathematics portion of the GRAD test. Currently, students are exempted from passing the mathematics portion of the GRAD test and can still receive their high school diploma provided that they complete all relevant coursework, receive remediation in mathematics, and take the GRAD test at least two more times (unless they pass the test on the first or second re-take). This exemption was passed in 2009 and is slated to remain in effect through the 2013-2014 school year. As introduced, HF 558 would lop a year off the exemption and make passage of the GRAD test a requirement for graduation beginning in the 2012-2013 school year.

The bill was amended the other evening in the House Education Policy Committee to include language from HF 655 (Keiffer). Representative Keiffer's (R-Woodbury) legislation would end the exemption for the mathematics portion of the GRAD in the same way as the Downey bill, but would go further in creating a new framework for high-stakes testing. According to HF 655, this framework--developed by the Commissioner of Education--would provide an accurate assessment of college and career readiness. Under the plan envisioned in HF 655, students would be required to pass state-developed end-of-course tests in reading and writing in 10th grade. In addition, the Commissioner would be required to develop statewide end-of-course tests for biology and algebra that students would have to pass (or show satisfactory achievement through alternative means) in order to receive a diploma.

There are arguments against increased attention on high-stakes testing. Research conducted by Dr. Stuart Yeh at the University of Minnesota has shown that investments like Response-to-Intervention (also known as Rapid Assessment) are more effective than the implementation on high-stakes test. On the other hand, assessing college and career readiness is a tricky business (witness the constant complaint by the post-secondary system that Minnesota high school graduates are not prepared for college work) and perhaps some sort of high school "exit" assessment can be helpful.

As with so many other issues I've written about recently, expect to see the issues of the GRAD exemption and other high-stakes testing measures contained in either (or both) the House and Senate omnibus education funding bills.

I now have to run over to the Senate to cover the Senate Education Committee proceedings, which will address SF 388 (Neinow), the bill that would create a low-income scholarship program for students in low-performing schools. That bill's companion--HF 273 (Woodard)--has already been heard extensively in the House Education Policy and House Education Finance Committees. This is a bill I have every intention on explaining to the blog's readership in greater detail, so stay tuned.

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