PCP: Standardized tests lead to grade bumps

Park plans to raise grades based on students performance on Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment

March 21, 2020

MCA grade changing policy creates long-term benefits

New incentive offers no downsides

The decision to increase students’ grades based on their success with the math portion of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments incentivizes students to pay more attention in class, helps their long term mental health and allows the school receive much-needed funding in order to help those struggling in school.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA) is used to view how well schools are implementing curriculum and instructing students in reading, science, and mathematics. The reading and mathematics assessments are also used in federal and state accountability measurements.

By prioritizing the benefits those in lower-level classes receive, such as the ⅔ letter grade boost in Advanced Algebra for receiving a “Meets Standard”, it allows students to focus more on learning the material and less on only memorizing it to get a good grade on a test. Furthermore, this prioritization allows students in lower-level classes to create a firm foundation for studying while also generating the confidence necessary to possibly move to a higher-level class the following year.

The new policy also has the potential to improve long-term mental health. Being so reliant on each unit test grade or final is a key cause for anxiety within the educational system, By eliminating this, students can feel more relaxed, taking time for mental health needs, and in turn aiding their test scores even more.

Moreover, more students taking the test allows the Minnesota Department of Education to view where more funding allocation may be needed, as well as allowing teachers to better fit their students’ needs. In the case that many students do below average on the MCA’s, that is a clear indication that the curriculum may need to be changed. In that sense, it is clear that the MCA is a very beneficial tool for both the state and the school district as a means for analyzing and forming better teaching tactics.

Given that taking the test has no negative incentives for those who may perform below average, this opportunity is a win-win and should be treated as such. By taking the MCA, you are giving yourself a large advantage over many of those who do not take it, it is a great indication of your personal academic growth and the growth of the school as a whole.


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Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment incentives do more harm than good

Results should focus on those who fall behind 

The recent decision to allow grade increases for students who either meet or exceed standards on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) gives attention to the wrong end of the scoring spectrum. This decision benefits the students who are already succeeding, and allows for the students who are lost to fall even more behind. 

Advanced algebra, which is one of the easier math classes available, has the most significant benefits for either meeting or exceeding standards. Students who meet standards on the exam will receive a ⅔ grade increase on their first semester grade, and students who exceed standards can get a full letter grade raise. Both have the option of opting out of the second semester final. AP Calculus and AP Statistics, which are two of the hardest math courses available, have the least benefits, and can only receive them if they exceed standards. 

Students taking an easier course like advanced algebra or precalculus should not have more benefits than students taking a college-level math class. AP students have an increased and more difficult workload and should be rewarded for meeting standards. 

Not only does this change benefit the easier courses, but is extremely unfair to students who have fallen behind throughout their time in high school. When you are dealing with seven classes at a time, it’s hard to pick yourself back up, especially in a math class when you fall behind. The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) measures a general area of knowledge that some students may have never learned properly. It is unfair to blame students for falling behind when it is ultimately the teacher’s responsibility to make sure their students are prepared for the next year of math. 

Testing students on a general area of knowledge isn’t measuring their skills properly. With all the classes students have to take, in addition to the fast moving pace of advanced courses, it’s natural to forget a good portion of what you learned in a class. Juniors preparing for the ACT have little to no time to prepare for the MCA test. Students who will meet or exceed standards will most likely be the ones who have a natural ability in math that not everyone is lucky enough to have. 

Instead of rewarding the students who perform well on the MCA exam, we should be offering help to the students who earned a below average score. The students meeting or exceeding standards are most likely doing well in their current math class and it can be assumed that they passed with a good grade first semester. This exam should be used to pinpoint which areas of math students need the most review in and which students need the most help.


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