Hundreds of Minneapolis students opt out of state tests

Published 10:15 am Monday, April 11, 2016

By Alejandra Matos

Minneapolis Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — Isabel Rousmaniere cannot remember the last time she took a state-mandated standardized exam, and she is still in high school.

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Rousmaniere, a senior at South High school in Minneapolis, is one of hundreds of students at the school who refuse to take the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments in math, reading and science, which wrap up in May.

“I am very done with standardized testing,” she said recently. “This afternoon, someone handed me a form and said you could opt out of the science MCA. I didn’t even know I still had to take that.”

South High had the highest number of students opting out of the assessments last year, a right they have under state law. Only 48 students took the math exam in 11th grade — out of 405 students. Statewide, less than 2 percent of all students opted out of that test.

South’s students, teachers and principal say the school culture rejects the idea that the tests are necessary to gauge the success of students. Instead, they choose to focus on graduation rates, access to high-level classes and college. Their views reflect a movement, often led by parents and union activists, that has taken hold in other states, especially New York and New Jersey.

Other education officials and experts say statewide exams are a critical tool in holding schools accountable and are necessary to reveal gaps in achievement among racial groups and between rich and poor students.

“The larger concern isn’t whether or not they are taking the test, but what are we doing to close the achievement gap between students,” said Eric Moore, the director of Minneapolis’ research, evaluation and assessment department.

Focus on other measures

South Principal Ray Aponte said the school still focuses on equity and ensuring all students are “college ready.” But they don’t look at an MCA score.

Instead, Aponte focuses on the number of high-level classes that the school offers and tracks how many students of color are taking them. He and his staff also keep an eye on their graduation rates and encourage students to focus on their college entrance exams.

In 2015 the school saw its highest graduation rate in five years, with 79 percent of the senior class graduating on time. “I just can’t get a true measure of all of that on an MCA, so for me it’s hard to view that as a viable score,” Aponte said.