April 3, 2019

3 Simple Ways to Make the Most of the MCAs

By Kara Cisco

As a 15-year veteran public school teacher and a parent, I know just how important the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments are. Objective data from tests like the MCA shine a much-needed light on systemic inequities and disparate student outcomes across Minnesota. As a parent of biracial children, being able to see, objectively, who our schools are and are not serving helps me better advocate for my children. As a teacher, MCA results help my colleagues and I understand whether we’re supporting students to achieve state standards and to adjust our instruction accordingly.

While MCA results are already valuable, I know that they could be far more useful to both educators and families. By requiring schools to administer the MCAs as late as possible in the school year and providing results to families and educators much faster, we can make the most of the MCAs—and ultimately better support Minnesota students.

HOW I LEVERAGE DATA TO SERVE MY STUDENTS

I’ve taught in public schools in Chicago, Minneapolis, and now St. Louis Park, and data has always been critical to my success with students. In addition to my work in the classroom, I facilitate professional development sessions that walk teachers like myself through the process of collecting and interpreting data in order to adjust instruction. I also co-facilitate an educator book club that challenges everyone in the room to engage in texts that reflect on the disproportionality of that data.

I am an enthusiastic supporter of data-driven instruction because I know that it makes me a better teacher. Just thinking back on my lessons today, I used formative assessment data to understand who in my class didn’t understand the lesson so I know who to reteach. I used reading scores derived from the MAP test to differentiate a reading that we analyzed in class. I used student survey data to assess prior knowledge and guide instruction. My professional learning community is currently collecting data as we develop our students’ ability to analyze and identify bias in graphs.

I WANT TO MAKE THE MOST OF THE MCAS, TOO

The one data point I don’t regularly use in my class is MCA scores. And that’s because I get results for my students too late—well into the school year after the tests were administered. This means that I can’t use MCA data to differentiate, target support, identify learning gaps, and boost student achievement from day one. If I could see my students’ MCA results from the previous school year before the new school year begins, I could better support learners right off the bat.

“If we had MCA data in-hand before each school year started, we could administer fewer assessments and minimize testing fatigue.”

What’s more, in order to access real-time data about student achievement, many educators put a great deal of effort into administering other assessments. This redundancy leads to testing fatigue and puts an undue burden on students. If we had MCA data in-hand before each school year started, we could administer fewer assessments and minimize testing fatigue.

Finally, as school years stretch into June, it’s only logical for us to extend the testing window as late as possible to honor the meaningful work that teachers are doing all school year to improve student outcomes. This is especially true for teachers who are evaluated based on those scores. When we allow schools to start administering the MCAs in March—months before the school year actually ends—we do a disservice to both teachers and students.

WHY I SUPPORT SF 1861

A bill working its way through the Minnesota Legislature would make several key improvements to MCA administration. SF 1861 would:

  • Require schools to administer the MCAs as late as possible in the school year;
  • Guarantee that parents get MCA results within 30 days of the test; and
  • Make sure teachers have access to MCA results before the first day of the next school year.

As a teacher and a parent, I strongly support this bill. As a teacher, I know that it would honor the work that educators are doing, and the work that educators want to do better. As a parent, I know that it would help parents understand how schools are serving their children. If my child doesn’t achieve proficiency in core subjects by the end of the school year, I want to know right away—not six months from now.

SF 1861 would take important steps to help us maximize the potential of the MCAs and make sure Minnesota students are getting what they need. I hope you’ll join me in supporting this commonsense bill.

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