Archived Story

Anti-bullying, testing top school issues

Published 1:51pm Saturday, March 8, 2014

AUSTIN — From anti-bullying measures to student testing, legislators got a bunch of suggestions to improve education from the Austin Public Schools board and district staff during an informal meeting Friday.

Dan Sparks
Dan Sparks

Board members shared their views with Sen. Dan Sparks and Rep. Jeanne Poppe, both DFL-Austin, as part of an annual meeting during the legislative session. The chief concern among school officials is the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act, also called Anti-Bullying Bill, which would replace Minnesota’s current 37-word law concerning bullying, widely considered the weakest such law in the U.S.

Yet the bill, which would mandate tracking instances of bullying as well as anti-bullying education in the classroom, has come under fire from many critics, including school officials.

“This issue over the past couple of months is probably the biggest thing I’ve heard about from parents,” Board Member Kathy Green told legislators. “…The details of the bill are smothering the intent of the bill.”

At issue is the way the bill asks districts to combat bullying problems within schools. Austin Superintendent David Krenz said the increased regulations will likely hamper district efforts rather than improve them.

Jeanne Poppe
Jeanne Poppe

“The problem is, it’s telling you how to go about doing things rather than telling you what needs to be done,” he said.

The Minnesota Management and Budget Office estimated the bill would cost Minnesota schools $19.5 million a year overall to implement regulations.

The House passed the bill last session but senators tabled the issue until this year to better examine the issue. Poppe, who voted for the bill last year, said she didn’t think it was a perfect bill but wanted to give the issue a chance to get discussed so legislators could tweak regulations before it gets passed into law.

“The House bill is not going to be the final version of the bill,” she said.

Legislators also heard about the state’s comprehensive testing requirements. Education experts have criticized statewide assessments for years after the federal No Child Left Behind law passed in 2001 mandated state testing to hold school districts accountable.

The Minnesota Department of Education has in recent years changed its approach to the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments after the Obama Administration allowed states to opt out of Adequate Yearly Progress scores for school districts. Yet school officials argue the once-a-year test doesn’t help educators track student progress. Students take MCAs in spring but don’t receive results until the fall.

“Typically, school districts refer to it as Autopsy Day because it comes back to us at such a point that you can’t even really do anything with it,” Corey Haugen, the district’s director of Information Technologies said.

What’s more, districts spend more money on so-called formative assessments, which students take several times throughout the year, to get a better idea of what students know and what they need work on. School staff say MCA data and the subsequent Multiple Measurements Rating data, which replaced AYP scores, simply don’t give as much information as those benchmark tests.

“Statewide assessments make us make choices that truly don’t push towards 21st century learning,” Educational Services Director John Alberts said.

District officials suggested legislators change the law so students take MCAs more than once a year, so MCAs can act as a better benchmark for student learning. They also asked legislators to implement one statewide reporting system for MCA scores and information, so MDE officials and school districts alike can access information easier and speed up reporting times.

Sparks and Poppe supported the suggestions.

“That makes a lot of sense,” Sparks said. “We’ve talked about it in the past that we need to make sure that we get that information back to the teachers and back to the classrooms as soon as possible.”