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COL We have too many tests

Too many tests, not enough coordination. That unfortunately seems to be Minnesota's situation, especially between the state's high schools, colleges and universities. It's wasting time and money.

Release of Minnesota's third- and fifth-grade test scores recently should remind us that a lot of time and taxpayer dollars are wrapped up in testing. Some of us encouraged the state to adopt already available tests. Unfortunately, the state opted to spend thousands of dollars developing its own tests. Lack of funds delayed the release of third- and fifth-grade tests for many months -- from last school year into this year.

And now, because of federal requirements, Minnesota and other states will soon need to test all students in reading (officially language arts) and math, grades 3-8, and once in grades 10-12.

The tests are supposed to be tied to state standards. So we have a big decision to make. Will we, once again, develop brand new tests, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars? Or, will Minnesota purchase existing tests, or cooperate with other states, so -- wonder of wonders -- we know how our students are doing compared to other states.

Minnesota could have done with this with our high school tests. We didn't.

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Years ago, the Minnesota State College and University system (MnSCU) developed placement tests, showing whether students are ready to take college level courses or needed to take remedial courses. These tests show that more than 30 percent of Minnesota high school graduates who enroll in a public college or university must take at least one remedial course. You can check the percentage from your local high school(s) on the MnSCU Qeb site ("Newsroom" at www.mnscu.edu).

Minnesota also could have adopted national college entrance tests (Scholastic Aptitude Tests -- "SATs," the American College Test -- "ACTs," or the MnSCU placement exams, for use in our high schools. Several state legislators urged high schools use MnSCU or college entrance tests. It made sense. We didn't need to money developing new tests. Equally important, students who took the tests would have known that if they passed the tests, they were ready for college work.

Sadly, legislators (encouraged by Department of Children, Families and Learning officials) decided, "let's develop new tests." So Minnesota high schools are using tests that are not necessarily comparable to college entrance tests. Students don't have to pass them to graduate.

High school students often ask teachers, "does this (test) count?" We're in the strange situation now of having statewide high school exams that don't "count" at all. More wasted money A statewide committee is now discussing possible test coordination. If this had happened earlier, we could have save huge sums. But since new federal requirements mandate more tests, legislators must decide in 2003 how to proceed.

People who care about efficient use of tax funds might want to ask legislative candidates if they favor developing new tests, or if they support saving time and money by using existing ones.

Nathan is a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and director of the institute's Center for School Change.

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