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Testing in Minnesota: An Overview

A GreatSchools guide to standardized tests

By GreatSchools Staff

Although test results are only one measure of student achievement, they have become increasingly important in assessing student learning. In 2007-2008 Minnesota used the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment-II (MCA-II) to test students in reading in grades 3 through 8 and 10, in math in grades 3 through 8 and 11, and in science in grades 5 and 8 and once in high school. The MCA-II is a standards-based test that measures specific skills defined for each grade by the state of Minnesota.

Minnesota also used the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment-II Graduation-Required Assessments for Diploma (MCA-II/GRAD) to test writing in grade 9. The MCA-II/GRAD is a standards-based test. Students who enter grade 8 in 2005-2006 and beyond must pass the MCA-II/GRAD in writing, as well as the MCA-II grade 10 reading and grade 11 math exams, in order to graduate.

How are the tests scored?

MCA-II results show the level of proficiency a student demonstrates in each of the subject areas tested. Students are rated at one of four levels: does not meet standards, partially meets standards, meets standards and exceeds standards. The goal is for all students to score at or above the state standard.

The MCA-II/GRAD writing test is scored on a scale of 1 to 6; students must receive a score of 3 or above to pass. The goal is for all students to pass the test.

Which results are included on GreatSchools profiles?

The combined percentage of students meeting and exceeding standards is displayed for the MCA-II in reading and math. For the MCA-II/GRAD, GreatSchools displays the percentage of students passing. MCA-II and MCA-II/GRAD results are displayed for all public and private schools for which the Minnesota Department of Education released data. Unlike public schools, private schools are not required to give the MCA-II or MCA-II/GRAD, but some do on a voluntary basis. State averages displayed on private school profiles include private schools only. Private school results are not included in GreatSchools Ratings.

GreatSchools also displays MCA-II/GRAD subgroup results for public schools to show how different groups of students are scoring in comparison to the overall student population in a given grade and subject. These subgroups are identified by the Minnesota Department of Education; if there are fewer than 10 students in a particular group in a school, data is not reported for that group.

Why do the tests matter?

The MCA-II provides an indication of whether students are making progress toward mastery of state content standards. Students entering grade 8 in 2005-2006 and beyond must pass the MCA-II/GRAD (Graduation-Required Assessments for Diploma) in reading, math and writing in order to graduate. The MCA-II/GRAD writing test is given in grade 9. The MCA-II/GRAD in reading and math will be components of the MCA-II tests given in grades 10 and 11 respectively. Students earn a diploma by achieving a proficient score on the MCA-II or a passing score on the GRAD component of the MCA-II. Students will have multiple opportunities to retake the GRAD tests if they do not pass the first time.

It is important to be aware of both your child's score on the assessments and the overall score for his school. If your child scores below the standards, contact his teacher to discuss getting additional assistance, and to find out how you can support your child's learning at home.

If the school's overall scores are low, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students, and what you can do to help. Because Minnesota test results help determine whether a given school will receive financial rewards or penalties from the state, your child may be eligible to receive federal and/or state money for tutoring or to transfer to another school.

What changes did Minnesota implement in the 2007-2008 school year?

Minnesota introduced an MCA-II test in science, given in grades 5 and 8 and once in high school. The reading component of the MCA-II/GRAD was also introduced in spring 2008. The math component of the MCA-II/GRAD will be introduced in spring 2009.

A few parting words

Although test results can be an indicator of what's happening in the classroom, they don't tell you everything about the quality of a particular school. Always look at more than one measure when judging school performance and visit in person before making any final assessment.

Search for Minnesota Schools.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

11/15/2011:
"how many points is the GRAD test out of? What are "good" scores? What were the average state scores? What were the average scores? Not just for writing, but for reading. This raised more questions than it answered. "
07/19/2010:
"I am freaked out to see the low scores that Quest Academy got. My son is incredibly intelligent and always did very well. I feel he wasted an entire year at that school just because the teachers are so caring. I'm afraid his education trumps caring teachers. "
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