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Test Freedom Day: Let the School Bells Ring

April 24, 2008 By John Fitzgerald, Education Policy Fellow

Today is Test Freedom Day.

Forget about Tax Freedom Day, the day when we are supposedly done paying taxes for the year. April brings another, more significant day when we celebrate the sloughing off of onerous, heavy-handed government mandates and regulations.

Today, when Minnesota students put their #2 lead pencils down, marks the unofficial end of the school test-taking season. The MCA-II, NEAP, GRAD, MTAS, TEAE, MN SOLOM, PSAT, SAT and ACT tests, among others, will come to a close.

Tax Freedom Day is publicized by a Washington D.C. research organization. It offers a theoretical date on which the average American's tax bill is paid.

Like Tax Freedom Day, Test Freedom Day is an approximation because there are a few tests left to take: the MCA-II's new on-line science test is a week or so away and there are still open college entrance exams dates but, for the most part, students are finished taking standardized tests.

Sound squishy? Like Tax Freedom Day, it is. It's a ginned-up publicity stunt, but it highlights two real problems:

1) Research shows that students miss the equivalent of six days during the school year to take standardized tests. State educators say that number is a bit high, but there's no doubt that students miss educational time to take these tests.

2) The MCA-II tests are used to judge schools under the No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB is a thing of beauty in its simplicity - every student takes a test and if enough pass, the school wins. If not enough pass, the school loses. Winners get federal funding for the poor, losers don't.  At its core, NCLB is simply a flawed fulcrum between the carrot and the stick. It doesn't produce an accurate snapshot of student achievement.

That's why we wave the Test Freedom Day banner. It is the day we break the chains of testing tyranny. Students can now study in peace without having to face a bubble-form, number-two-lead-pencil nightmare.

Here's a short look at Minnesota's standardized tests:

Minnesota Test of Academic Skills -- MTAS is an alternate reading, math and science assessment for special education students

Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test - PSAT is taken by high school sophomores and juniors. Although not required by the state, it is a highly popular test. PSAT results are used to determine eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

National Assessment of Educational Progress -- NAEP tests the math and reading skills of a sample of students in fourth and eighth grades every odd-numbered year and other subjects every even-numbered year. In 2008, eighth graders were tested on art, while long-term studies in reading and mathematics continued on students ages 9, 13, and 17

Test of Emerging Academic English and Student Oral Language Observation Matrix -- TEAE is a test of reading and writing language proficiency for English Language Learners. SOLOM is a test of listening and speaking language proficiency for English Language Learners

Basic Skills Tests - BST tests in reading, mathematics and writing are required for graduation. They are being replaced by GRAD. The tenth graders in 2006-07 are the last cohort required to pass the three BSTs

Mathematics Test for English Language Learners -- MTELL is an online test of mathematics for English Language Learners

Graduation-Required Assessments for Diploma -- GRAD tests high school reading, mathematics and writing. Students must pass GRAD to graduate from high school. Ninth graders take the GRAD Written Composition. Tenth graders take the Reading MCA-II/GRAD

Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments - Series II -- MCA-II is the standardized test required by the No Child Left Behind Act. Tests are given to all students in grades 3 through 8. Tenth graders take the Reading MCA-II/GRAD. Eleventh graders take the Mathematics MCA-II. Grades 5, 8 and high school life science students take the Science MCA-II

Scholastic Aptitude Test - SAT is a college entrance exam taken by high school sophomores and juniors.  Although not required by the state, it is a highly popular test

American College Testing Program -- ACT is a college entrance exam taken by high school sophomores and juniors.  Although not required by the state, it is a highly popular test

Tax Freedom Day is a publicity stunt, a macguffin that has legs only on shrill radio call-in talk shows.

Test Freedom Day is no different. Today, let's publicize the day when big government and its conservative public policy mandates gets off our backs and we can go about the business of getting an education.

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