Minnesota students must take standardized tests in-person, some fear 'record number' of opt-outs

Minnesota students will take standardized tests in the classroom this spring after a one-year break during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading some to predict families will opt out in record numbers.

The in-person tests are a directive of President Joe Biden's administration, earning cheers from Republican lawmakers while putting Biden at odds with teachers' unions that he's allied with politically.

The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCAs, will be administered between now and May. Thousands of students in Metro-area school districts haven't seen the inside of a classroom in a year, but there is no remote test-taking option.

"You’re going to have a record number of opt-outs," state Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, said on the Senate floor Monday.

State education officials told FOX 9 they would not know until June how many students opt out. They know of no school districts encouraging students not to take the tests, said Wendy Hatch, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Education.

Some DFLers and teachers' union officials are opposed to the Biden administration's mandate.

"If I were a parent, I’d opt my child out of MCA tests," Denise Specht, president of the statewide teachers' union Education Minnesota, tweeted. "The scores will be unreliable and invalid."

Minnesota allows families to opt out because they oppose standardized testing or because of the pandemic.

"We shouldn't be encouraging parents not to do this (take the test)," said state Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, the chairman of the Senate Education committee.

Monday, the Minnesota Senate backed down from a plan to force education officials to let students take the MCAs from home. 

Democratic senators said Minnesota's testing provider, Pearson Education, would not be able to develop a remote testing option in the next few weeks. It would be impossible to control the at-home environment like a classroom to monitor for cheating, they said.

"You can’t have anything on the board that would give a student an unfair advantage. How can we ensure that is going to happen at home?" said state Sen. Mary Kunesh, DFL-New Brighton.

Republicans say the MCAs are necessary to assess how much learning students lost over the past year. 

"Parents and families have asked for the MCAs to be done," Chamberlain said. "And thank God that the federal government is requiring it and it’s going to be done."

While testing must happen in-person, Minnesota education officials are making other accommodations. 

The state Department of Education is pursuing a federal waiver to ensure low test scores will not trigger accountability measures against school districts, Hatch said.

Education officials have also expanded the testing window until May 21 to give school districts more time, Hatch said.