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Pioneer Editorial: Math grad tests simply unacceptable

Let's walk through the numbers. Only 57 percent of Minnesota 11th graders scored high enough on a math test required for high school graduation -- or, at least, until now. That means that more than four out of 10 kids one year away from high school graduation aren't considered proficient in math. We're not sure, but what does proficient mean? Able to balance a checkbook? Able to add up a grocery list to get an estimate before hading to the checkout. Able to do your EZ federal tax return?

Those numbers don't seem good, yet education officials on Friday hailed it as this group of 11th-graders passed a tougher math test on the first try.

But the Legislature this session surmised the test was too tough, and passed a law negating the need for the test for graduation. For the next five years, an 11th-grader can flunk the test three times and graduate anyway, provided they have also completed all coursework and credits required for graduation, participated in remediation programs between test tries, and pass the required-for-graduation tests for reading and writing.

At least tests are trending in the right direction in reading and writing. Officials said Friday that 89 percent of ninth-graders met the writing graduation requirements and 74 percent of 10th-graders were proficient in reading.

Back to math -- the graduation-required tests were embedded in the math MCA-II math tests which measure student performance on the Minnesota Academic Standards. Students should meet or exceed standards developed in partnership with Minnesota educators. On the Math MCA-II test, 42 percent of 11th-graders were proficient in math, up from 34 percent last year.

That still means in the comprehensive math test for 11th-graders, six out of 10 students are not proficient in math.

Those kind of figures should send up alarm bells. Anything less than nine out of 10 students being proficient in math means a failing system with a serious lack of accountability

Are the tests indeed too tough, or are the standards too lax. There have been efforts the past decade to improve Minnesota's standards for graduation, including math and science. There have been great principled debates over how to frame education standards, a debate that saw the Senate fail to confirm Gov. Pawlenty's first-term commissioner of Education.

Public policy seems to be headed in the wrong direction. We should not award a three-time flunker of a basic math test with a high school diploma.

Perhaps the standards should again be reviewed and made grade-appropriate for Bemidji. And the tests formulated to reflect those standards. And then let student achievement be measured by them.

We can't continue to accept that four out of 10 upcoming seniors can't do math.