Do student opt outs negatively impact a district’s test results?

With the latest statewide test scores showing more than half of Minnesota students not meeting basic proficiency standards in reading and math, some are rationalizing the discouraging results by claiming that students who opt out bring down a district’s total proficiency.

Well, not exactly.

According to communication from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), the proficiency calculation of general test results only includes students with valid test scores. So, a school or district’s Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) proficiency level as listed under “Test Achievement Levels, Test Results and Participation” on the Minnesota Report Card is not skewed by student opt outs.

However, as part of the state’s North Star accountability system, all students who do not participate in testing (except for those with a medical exemption) are treated the same way as students who are not proficient to calculate a school or district’s achievement. “This may affect the school’s ability to be identified for support or recognized for success,” according to MDE.

Another part of the North Star accountability system is academic progress — which tracks whether students are improving or maintaining achievement levels on academic tests from one year to the next. With this calculation, students must have a valid score in both years to be included in the calculation, so a student who does not participate is not included in the progress calculation one way or another.

Participation results show that 93.2 percent of Minnesota students took either the math Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) this past spring or the Minnesota Test of Academic Skills (MTAS), which is an alternative assessment for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. Reading participation was just under 95 percent (94.7 percent).

A more detailed breakdown of participation shows that roughly 4.6 percent of the total students expected to be tested opted out of the math MCA or MTAS and 3.6 percent from reading. But again, these opt outs are not calculated into a school or district’s general proficiency results.

On average, Minnesota students spend less than 1 percent of instructional time taking statewide assessments each year, according to MDE.