House panel to consider whether tests are too tough for eighth-graders

ST. PAUL (AP) — Some educators say the basic-skills tests Minnesota eighth-graders must take are written at a high school or college level and are too tough.
Others contend the intent of the tests has been garbled and too much emphasis has been placed on whether eighth-grade students pass them.
Such claims surfaced before Thursday’s release of this year’s test results, which showed that the passing rate for Minnesota eighth-graders climbed from 59 percent to 68 percent in reading and from 70 percent to 71 percent in math.
Those views and others will be aired Tuesday, when a state House subcommittee holds a hearing on the tests.
Some testing experts say the idea is to find out how students are doing far enough in advance to help them pass the tests by the time they’re high school seniors. They say eighth grade is the first time students have a reasonable shot at success.
But if students don’t pass the first time, others contend, they and their schools often are portrayed as failures.
“The experts can’t even agree on whether or not it’s an eighth-grade test or a 12th-grade test, so it’s a bit of a political football,” said Rep. Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, chairman of the House Education Quality Initiatives subcommittee.
Testing experts from the University of Minnesota, parents, school officials and representatives of the Department of Children, Families and Learning are expected to testify at Tuesday’s hearing.
Among other things, legislators hope to measure the difficulty of the reading test by using a special computer program.
Entenza said he doesn’t want to abandon the tests, but he said the results get too much attention.
“The results are wildly overhyped and are used to make judgments that the experts would say aren’t warranted,” he said.
State officials say the tests are pegged to ninth-grade reading levels, and they dismissed criticism as an effort to discourage close scrutiny of test results.
Among the tests’ backers is Gov. Arne Carlson.
“Our goal is to stay the course,” Carlson said last week, adding that “there will always be controversy” over the tests, which students must pass to earn a diploma.
Carlson said the tests were field-tested by 500 teachers, administrators and principals.
“Those tests received the unanimous support of the entire system,” he said. “They are the right standards. And they are the right minimal standards.”