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High-Stakes Testing

January 25, 2013, 10:04 PM by Sammi Bjelland

High-Stakes Testing
LUVERNE, MN -

In order to graduate high school in the state of Minnesota, you must first pass the state's GRAD test. But that can be easier said than done.

A task force for the state legislature has been looking closely at this exit exam, specifically the math section. It has been estimated that one-third of Minnesota high school students would fail the math test.

"When you look at some of the articles out there comparing it to some of the ACT tests, the math ACT test, it's basically saying it's pretty rigorous. Maybe even more rigorous than the ACT test," Luverne High School principal Ryan Johnson said.

The math portion is so difficult for many students, the state decided to allow waivers in 2009. That allowed students to retake the exam three times if they failed and receive special assistance. After completing all of the requirements, students are allowed to graduate.

"Legislators as well as educators are going to have to really get together and really come to an understanding of what is working and of what are realistic expectations for us as we administer these tests to these seniors," Johnson said.

And they'll have to figure something out soon because the waiver system is set to expire in 2015.

While state officials don't know exactly how many students are using the waivers, they do know only 57 percent pass on their first try.

"We're looking at potentially a quarter to a third of the high school seniors that might not actually even be able to graduate because of that one test," Johnson said.

"I have some kids in my class who work really, really, really hard just to barely be able to pass my class. And I know that the chances of them passing are not extremely high. So, to get them to reach that level is sometimes a big stretch and sometimes I think is a little unfair to the student at times," math teacher Pete Janiszeski said.

Minnesota schools are known for having one of the most rigorous curriculums in the nation. And the math section of the GRAD test is said to be much more difficult than those given in other states. A few Luverne High School seniors we talked with said by the time the exam comes, at the end of their Junior year, they do feel pretty well prepared.

"The last two years of teachers didn't really explain well, but the years before that they really helped. And then if you had personal difficulties with different subjects in math, they really helped," senior Nathan Kannas said.

"I think that every student should have basic math understanding, but I think some of the questions were a little bit more difficult than maybe they should have been," senior Kelly Sandager said.

While teachers do their best to stay ahead of the test and prepare their students, any big changes to the exam add an extra pressure to the already high stakes.

"I think next year's group is the first year on the, it's going to be computer based. So it's going to be a different bank of questions and those types of things. And actually based on a newer set of standards than they're currently being tested on too," Janiszeski said.

"I like the way they do it now personally, because if you work at it that's what you should have to do, is work at it to have to be able to pass it. Which makes more sense than failing them for one test," Kannas said.

While nothing official has been decided by the state legislature, the idea of a hard working student not graduating because of this one test is a hard thing for educators to accept.

"I think there's kind of good on both ends. There's an accountability piece that is there, but it is unfortunate for me to tell a senior who has gone through everything, who has done well with his course studies, and have to tell them sorry you can't graduate because you just haven't passed this one particular test," Johnson said.

"Everybody has their weaknesses. I think that every person can be a valuable, contributing part of society. And just because they don't pass a certain test doesn't mean that they can't be successful," Janiszeski said.

According to the Associated Press, the task force in charge of examining the GRAD test voted 26-2 in favor of replacing the GRAD exams with tests that are designed to help students get into college or find a job out of high school. However, legislative action is required to make any changes a reality.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
The dateline was been corrected to Luverne, MN.

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