The House Education Innovation Policy Committee on Thursday began dissecting HF1591, sponsored by Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton). The proposed legislation serves as the Minnesota Department of Education’s policy bill and contains a number of wide-ranging proposed policy reforms brought forward by Department Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.

Its companion, SF1495, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood), was heard Wednesday in the Senate Education Committee.

Focus on Testing

Discussion focused almost solely on the proposed standardized testing reforms.

The proposal represents “a reasonable approach to making testing more efficient and effective, so that teachers can better prepare our children for a competitive global marketplace,” Dayton wrote in a March 5 letter to chairs of the House and Senate K-12 education committees.

“The disproportionate amount of time and test preparation that has resulted from the federal No Child Left Behind law and additional state requirements has stifled teachers’ creativity and ability to impart information to students,” he noted.

Under current law, the average student in Minnesota schools will take 21 standardized exams between grades three and 12. Tests subjects include math, reading and science that are administered multiple times at different grade levels, along with “career and college ready” exams students must currently take while in high school. Also, beginning this year, all high school students were required to take the ACT.

HF1591 aims to eliminate three of those “career- and college-ready” exams – called EXPLORE, COMPASS and PLAN. It would also eliminate standardized math tests for third- and fourth-graders and standardized reading tests for sixth- and seventh-graders.

Varying Positions

Cassellius told committee members the remaining required 14 tests align with Dayton’s call for less redundancy in assessments.

Dayton’s recommendations track slightly different from the recommendations released last month by a Test Reduction Advisory Group he appointed. That group recommended elimination of the high school science standardized, which Cassellius said she wants to see remain among the myriad MCA exams students take during their K-12 career.

Cassellius stated she’s slightly worried about science already not being taught enough, so I think that would send the wrong message about science if the test was eliminated. She added that the exam matches with the growing demand for more students to pursue careers in science- and technology-related fields.

Proposals to reduce the number of standardized tests for students have received general bipartisan support, but there is little agreement on how many or what exams to eliminate.

Other Provisions

Other provisions included in the bill would:

  • Elective Credits: Reform the elective credit system that would allow students who take an agriculture science or career and technical education class to fulfill an elective science, under certain circumstances
  • Specialized Transportation: Require a school board to provide transportation for a child with a disability not yet enrolled in kindergarten in order to provide the child special instruction and services
  • World Language: Direct districts to use the world language standards developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages when offering world language electives
  • Early Learning Scholarships: Make eligible a parent under age 21 who is pursuing a college degree eligible for an early learning scholarship if the parent has a child age 0 to 5 and meets income eligibility guidelines. Another provision would allow the commissioner to prioritize applications for early learning scholarships based on whether a child is in foster care, experiencing homelessness, is on a waiting list for publicly funded early education or child care services, or has a parent under age 21 pursuing a high school diploma, a GED, or a college degree
  • Library Officer: Require the governing board of a regional public library system to employ a full-time chief administrative officer