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Supt. Olson Editorial: Why MCAs? Let us count the ways!

*Opening lines sung to the beat of YMCA by the Village People*

“That’s what we say when you ask Why MCAs?
That’s what we say when you ask Why MCAs?
You can show us your stuff,
Everything that you know,
You can show us how you’ve really grown!”

So, maybe it’s a little elementary, but the lyrics from “Why MCAs,” a song that’s been used to get younger students excited about MCA testing for more than a decade, ring true in a lot of ways.

The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) have become a bit of a lightning rod for debate during recent years, with a growing number of students from around the state opting out of testing. As a district, we largely believe that apprehension around the MCAs has grown from perceptions about the test that simply do not hold true anymore. So, before I delve into some very important and pertinent information about the MCAs, I would like to debunk some myths.

Perception: MCA testing creates a high stakes environment that puts undue pressure on students.

Reality: While there may have been a time in the past where MCAs were treated as an utterly serious test, we have now seriously relaxed the vibe. It is our attitude that we want to make our students feel good, and to create a positive, supportive environment. We want to do everything we can to set our students up for success and to showcase their abilities.

Perception: MCA testing forces districts to create a curriculum around it. Forcing the end of MCAs will stop curriculum from being geared toward standardized tests.

Reality: We have already moved a long ways away from curriculum geared completely toward standardized tests. While we certainly spend time preparing and we insert lessons and practice work that helps set students up for MCA success, the bottom line is that we are proud to focus on whole child education in Monticello School District, emphasizing Social Emotional Learning right alongside our standard academic curriculum. We do not believe our job is to prepare our students to be good test takers for the rest of their lives, but rather to help them become adaptive, intelligent, kind, compassionate, and interested citizens of the world.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of important and beneficial reasons for taking the test, both for students and the district as a whole.

First, and most importantly, is why testing is important for students and how it benefits them. It’s important because it’s a measuring tool. And while it’s just one of many data points that we use to measure a student’s progress, when combined with all other measurements it helps us paint the full picture of a student’s progress. Test results show us general areas where students are strong, and where we may need to challenge them further, as well as areas where they might need more help and more time. Results help us continue to create equitable learning for each child, providing them with the education that they need to be successful.

Another benefit of MCA testing, particularly for older students, is that MCA scores can be used to help them gain acceptance to College-In-the-Schools (CIS) courses, and prevent them from having to take an additional test to attempt to qualify.

MCA results also give students a chance to take pride in their results, and to show off their areas of strength. They can be an indicator of academic areas where a student is strong and give the student an idea of future education or careers that they may want to pursue based off this information.

The MCAs also play a big role in creating a perception about our district. While MCA test scores are hardly the only thing we want to be judged on, we don’t get to control the system of rating schools. Instead we must embrace all standards by which we are judged, and continue our work to establish ourselves as one of the premiere school districts in the state of Minnesota.

As the Minnesota Department of Education explains, the State uses aggregated test scores to report to the public and U.S. Department of Education about how Minnesota students are performing in schools. Test data helps the State evaluate the progress schools are making in reducing achievement gaps among student groups. Under the newly implemented Every Student Succeeds Act, a student that opts out of the statewide assessment is counted as “not proficient” for the purpose of school and district accountability.

These “not proficient” ratings can negatively skew a school and district’s result, potentially affecting funding and state support, as well as public perception.

By taking these tests, our students have the opportunity to continue to build Magic pride, and to showcase just one of the many things that makes Monticello a destination in public education.

We believe strongly in the value of educating the whole child, and of setting our students up for success in life, and not just on a test. We believe in relationships, soft skills, connections, and care. But we also believe in the talent of our teachers and the brilliance of our students, and while we understand the issues some take with standardized testing, we believe it is imperative to embrace this opportunity to showcase our students and our success, while learning about ourselves and how we can continue to improve for Every Kid, Every Day.