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Lawmakers drop free ACT exams, cut other statewide school testing

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The number of required tests that Minnesota students take in elementary and high schools will go down significantly in coming years after the Legislature made some sweeping changes to the testing program.

In one of the most visible changes, the state will no longer pay for all high school juniors to take the ACT college entrance exam – which was instituted just this year as a requirement to graduate.

The intent of offering the test at no cost during the school day was to encourage students to start thinking about college earlier, and prompt some of them – especially children of color and low-income students – to consider going to college who otherwise wouldn’t have thought about it.

Lawmakers cut the testing budget for the Department of Education nearly in half, from $42 million in the last two-year cycle to $22 million for the next two years, MPR News reports.

All the changes were part of the education budget bill that lawmakers passed in the recent special legislative session. The measure provides about $17 billion to fund Minnesota's schools and early childhood education programs in the next two years.

Other tests eliminated

Other testing that will be dropped includes college and career readiness evaluations that were typically administered in grades 8-10, the Minnesota Department of Education said.

The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment GRAD tests in writing, reading and math will end a year earlier than planned; they were going to be phased out next year anyway, according to MPR News.

On the other side of the coin, the Legislature is also requiring the education department to develop a new high school writing exam, the St. Paul Pioneer Press notes.

Students in third through eighth grades, as well as high school students, will continue to take MCA tests every year. The reading, math and science exams are required by the federal government.

However, MCA practice tests will be discontinued.

Lawmakers also included a cap on the amount of time students can spend during a school year on assessment tests, according to the Pioneer Press.

Students in elementary school would be limited to 10 hours per year, while students in middle and high school could only have 11 hours of test taking. Schools districts could apply for waivers to those limits.

The Education Department has summarized all the testing changes in this document.

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