Minnesota moves forward with state testing, teachers’ union pushes back

The U.S. Department of Education recently announced that states will have to administer their annual standardized tests this school year, but the department has paired the testing requirement with additional flexibility. In Minnesota, the state’s teachers’ union is opposing the assessments and encouraging parents to opt their children out of taking the tests.

“If I were a parent, I’d opt my child out of MCA [Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment] tests,” tweeted Education Minnesota President Denise Specht.

The scores will be unreliable and invalid, especially given this past year of learning disruptions. Assessments educators give on a regular basis are much more informative for parents and students. You know what I’m talking about – those common assessments educators spend hours creating together, those end of the week tests, those end of unit quizzes, those reading fluency checks. Educators have ongoing, real-time information for parents. What we need right now is a check on how students are doing on a social and emotional level. Parents, it is always your right to opt your children out of MCAs.

(As an aside, we knew students were struggling socially and emotionally from not being in classrooms. Yet when data confirmed reopening schools could be done safely, the teachers’ union pushed back.)

While the assessments educators give provide important and helpful information to guide lesson planning and student progress, statewide testing doesn’t vary from district to district and can help identify where to direct resources for mitigation efforts. Or identify which schools and districts saw success with how they handled the COVID-19 challenge.

Given the learning disruptions from this past year, wouldn’t now be the time to know the extent of learning loss so that we can create a plan to address it? This doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be some flexibility involved with how test results are used, but to best help all students recover and move forward — especially students who were already struggling pre-COVID — we need some sort of comparable data. Even liberal organizations are pushing for summative assessments to be administered.

MCA scores do not determine whether a student advances to the next grade or not, and they are not the be-all, end-all. However, they do show that the state has struggled with academic disparities for far too long. We can’t let those students fall through the cracks, and getting a handle on how different students and schools weathered this unique year is one part of making sure students don’t. State assessments are part of that. But with the teachers’ union encouraging parents to opt their students out of these tests, we risk continuing to sweep learning disparities under the rug, particularly during a year when they have only been exacerbated.