Report by MN 2020 shows focus on school testing adversely affects quality education

By KBJR News 1

August 28, 2014 Updated Aug 28, 2014 at 7:40 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- Results of the 2014 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or standardized test scores, were recently released, prompting many schools in the state to change their focus.

The report, by the think tank "Minnesota 2020", indicates the emphasis on school testing adversely affects quality education.

School districts nationwide are welcoming thousands of students back to class as they begin to fill the hallways and classrooms of schools across the country.

And while everyone hopes for a good educational outcome for students the statewide non-partisan progressive think tank, "Minnesota 2020", says focusing on school testing comes at the expense of other important programs.

"Art, music, phys. ed.; those are things that support the whole child and that are important to a child's education. It's not just about testing every day," said Bernie Burnham, president of the Duluth Federation of Teachers.

MN 2020 examined school finance data between 2003 and 2004, and though the 2012-2013 year and determined that education cuts, combined with the recession and an increased focus on testing, forced many school districts, like Duluth, to make cuts elsewhere.

"It's okay that we're spending more in math and English, but it's concerning that we're losing opportunities in other areas," said Michael Diedrich, author of the MN 2020 report.

Spending in tested subjects increased while spending in areas like art and computer science was cut, along with support staff like counselors and nurses.

Duluth, for example, cut over 60% of its student support spending.

"It would only make sense that all buildings have those basic needs. Ya know, to have all the people that are there to support children, to have a full-time nurse, and full-time social workers, full-time mental health people," said Burnham.

Education leaders recommend increasing the overall investment in public education throughout the state, while also widening the definition of a "good school" to consider learning opportunities beyond test scores.

"Early childhood education did get an increase in spending over the past ten years, as its gained attention from the state. It's important that the state send a message to districts that it values the whole set of services that support children," said Diedrich.

In order to build a brighter future for the state, educators say investing in the whole child must be a top priority for local policy makers.

Minnesota 2020 is traveling to a number of cities throughout the state, like Duluth, to inform them of the recent findings and discuss ways to move forward.

Elsa Robins