ST. PAUL (AP) -- Students from fifth grade and up can now take the basic skills tests scheduled to be taken by eighth- and 10th-graders under a little-known law passed during last year's legislative session.
As the state testing season opens with the writing test this week, many educators, including Education Commissioner Christine Jax, expressed their concerns that the new rule could cause problems.
Testing so many different grade levels will make it tough to compare scores and passing rates, not to mention the time and money it will take to test more students, critics say.
Minnesota students must pass the three basic-skills tests in order to get their high school diplomas. The new law states that parents of any students from fifth grade on up can have their children tested as long as they have a teacher's recommendation and the district's approval.
The purpose of the new fifth-grade-and-above law is to let those children who are ready to take the tests forge ahead, said its author, Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis.
But many school officials say that testing more children will be costly and disruptive and could take time away from classroom instruction. Some wonder how younger children could cope if they failed the tests.
Critics also say that it would be impossible to compare eighth-grade test results in math and reading and 10th-grade test results in writing if varying numbers of students in those grades are exempted because they've already passed the tests.
Educators have been using the passing rates and average scores to plot how individual districts and schools are doing over time. Allowing younger children to take the tests and perhaps pass them earlier complicates such comparisons.
Jax said it would be tougher for state officials to cite performance trends when they make their annual basic-skills announcements.
"If elementary school higher-performing fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders take the tests and they all pass, then it's only our less-bright kids taking it in the eighth grade," Jax said. "Suddenly, it will look like our eighth-graders have gotten dumber. ... It will look like our kids are getting worse when they are not."
Pogemiller said none of that should be a concern if, as he expects, only a few students take the test earlier.
Educators from several metro school districts said they've had few or no requests from parents to allow their children to take the tests early. But the districts haven't done much to get the word out. And because districts are not required by the law to offer the tests to younger students, some have not offered it.
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