Report on Basics Skills Hearing  
November 8, 1999

By Wednesday, October 27th, at least 25 people had requested in writing a hearing before an administrative law judge regarding the intention of the Department of Children, Families and Learning to permanently reduce the passing score requirement on the MN Basic Standards Test from 80% to 75%.

Formal testimony by MrEdCo was presented orally and in writing. A copy of that testimony follows.

Twenty-eight people were present for the hearing, seven of them from one official department or another. The judge, Alan Klein, appeared to be a very fair minded man who was interested in getting to the bottom of what was clearly a controversy. He could see, of course, that the room was full of parents who were concerned that their children were not getting a decent education.

We started out rather formally, but as time went, the proceedings became more casual as Judge Klein let everyone speak as long and often as they desired. He quizzed the state staffers a number of times and allowed the "audience" to quiz them too. The staffers appeared piqued that they were answering to everyone there.

The crux of the Department's argument was that the issue of a 75% vs. 80% passing score on the Basic Standards Test is wholly unrelated to whether a student knows more or less. Their position was summarized in their Statement of Need and Reasonableness (SONAR) this way:

" increased score on the state tests does not indicate higher achievement in either subject area...Thus, it should be noted that moving the passing score from 75 percent to 80 percent will not raise the level of achievement required to pass. Instead, it merely represents more consistent performance at the level of the standards."

They explained in detail that a passing requirement of 75% is statistically MORE RELIABLE than 80%. The test is put together, they insisted, so that there is little deviation in difficulty level from one question to the next. Their experience with the test to date is that students have mastered the material at 75%. After that, they emphatically declared, students don't know more just because they answer more questions accurately. Raising the required passing score won't raise the standard because the rigor of the test itself has not changed. [No, but the rigor of the passing score has changed.]

They did not refute my statements and others' that the tests were at a 6th grade level. The judge had them explain that, and they dutifully responded that while a teacher may introduce a subject in one year, it takes two years before it sinks in (or something to that effect).

Much of the testimony of the parents revolved around how insipidly simple the test is, to the point of being insulting to their children's intelligence, and then to find out they want to lower the passing requirement added insult to injury. The judge asked for clarification about the purpose of the Basic Standards Test. The staffers kept defining its significance down until they agreed that it was a simple literacy test, just a low-level safety net. All the real learning happens in the "high standards," they told him, and no one should be creating their curriculum around the Basic Standards Test. They even said there was a "high-standards test" (meaning the Profile).

I corrected them, clarifying to the judge that there was not ONE more objective test after this one and that all one needed to "pass" the Profile was to participate, that most of the packages were group projects subjectively rated by a rubric measuring to a large degree values, attitudes and behaviors rather than knowledge. They did not refute that either. All of this appeared to be new information to Judge Klein.

By the end, the staffers were becoming short tempered. They stuck to their argument that this was a simple data reliability issue and it had no other implications for teaching whatsoever.

But a teacher there spilled the beans. She asked the judge how soon this would all be decided. "That is a biggie," she said.

"Why is that a biggie?" asked Judge Klein.

"Because the tests are in early February and schools are going to have a whole lot of work to do if this is changed to 80%" (as the law now requires), she answered.

Judge Klein: "What would you differently if this changes?"

Teacher, who was getting uncomfortable because she at this point realized she'd said too much: "Inform the parents of the change because all along they've been told it will be 75% passing score."

Judge Klein: What will the parents do differently if they know the passing score will be 80%?

Teacher: Nothing, really.

Judge Klein: What else will the school do that it won't be doing at 75%?

Teacher, reluctantly: There will need to be a whole lot of identifying of who needs additional remedial work and a lot of students getting additional remedial work in order to pass.

One of the parents present protested that the staffers there had just testified this change to the rule would have no effect on expectations of the students, while the teacher testified that a change would mean rushing many more students through remediation. They can't both be right, she stated emphatically. "Frankly," she said, "I don't know if I can believe what these people are saying [pointing to the staffers]."

An attorney from the Secretary of State's Office then testified that the judge really had to decide who the rules are written to serve.

If they are to serve the Department, the change is reasonable, he said. The change will make their lives much easier. Lots less work and paper. If the rules are there to serve parents and students, they are totally unreasonable. The idea that the passing score doesn't relate to how much students know is absurd, he went on. "It's the kind of idea that comes out of the Department's ivory tower."

The hearing was adjourned just before noon.

Here are the details. Until Nov. 22nd, testimony may be submitted in writing to:

Judge Alan Klein
Office of Administrative Hearings
100 Washington Square, Suite 1700
Mpls, MN 55401-2138

Comments also may be faxed to 612-349-2665. Comments must be received before 4:30 p.m. on Nov 22nd in order to be considered.

After that until Dec. 1st, anyone may come in to look at the testimony already submitted and respond to it, in writing on the spot or more formally typed up from home. He will issue his decision in January.

Testimony before Judge Klein regarding:
State of Minnesota intention to permanently reduce the passing score on Basic Standards Graduation Requirements to 75%



MR Ed Co's Testimony before Judge Klein regarding:
State of Minnesota intention to permanently reduce the passing score on
Basic Standards Graduation Requirements to 75%

November 8, 1999

Julie Quist
Maple River Education Coalition, Vice-President

I am a parent representing Maple River Education Coalition, a statewide grassroots organization of over 10,000 parents, students and other citizens around Minnesota. I am here to speak in opposition to the intention of the state to permanently fix the state requirement for a passing score on the Basic Standards Test at 75%, down from the 80% that was to have been required of students graduating in the year 2002 and beyond.

The Basic Standards Test, Part I, of the new and controversial Graduation Standards, is the only objective test that the state requires a student to pass in order to graduate from high school. All other state requirements for graduation are contained within Part II of the Graduation Standards, the Profile of Learning. The Profile of Learning assessments (performance packages) are described this way by Augenblick & Meyers, the firm hired by the state of Minnesota: "...not much more than participation is required to fulfill [Minnesota's] graduation requirements."

By admission of the Department of Children, Families and Learning, Basic Standards Tests evaluate skills normally taught at the 6th grade. Thus, 6th grade level tests are the only objective data available to us regarding the knowledge students have acquired by the time they graduate from high school.

The Basic Standards test is intended to certify the minimum competency level for graduation in mathematics, reading and writing. Since this minimum competency level is so low already (6th grade level work for high school graduation), why  lower it even further?

Is it because the state believes that our schools are so inept that they are unable to achieve even 6th grade level standards? What happened to all the rhetoric about raising educational outcomes?

There are, of course, two ways to increase or maintain graduation rates. One way is to increase academic learning. The other is to lower the standards. We ask the state of Minnesota to explain how it can raise standards by lowering standards, especially when the minimum standard for high school graduation is only 6th grade level work.

The Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning has responded to our inquiries by saying that the schools cannot get enough students to pass even 75% of the 6th grade level material before they graduate. That is, CFL justifies the lowering of the standards on the basis of "social passing" -- the very problem that the Basic Standards were designed to remedy. Why should we admit defeat so soon?

Our position is that the state should instead promote strategies that actually increase learning in our schools. See, for example, E.D. Hirsch's book, "The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them," or a document published by the  U.S. Department of Education called, "What Works: Research about Teaching and Learning, 2nd Edition," which identifies those educational practices which have proven to be effective. There are any number of schools around the country that have proven that this can be done, e.g., Core Knowledge, Direct Instruction, and private schools. Why not emulate them?

In summary, if the problem our state faces is that too few of our students are able to pass the 6th grade level minimum competency tests with at least an 80% score, then we believe that it is far better to raise student achievement than to lower the standard to 75%.