“Opting out” doesn’t impact college admission decisions

The following column appeared in a number of ECM newspapers during March-April, 2018.

‘Opting out’ of state tests doesn’t impact college admission decisions for students

Minnesota high school students applying for colleges who “opt out” of statewide tests in reading or mathematics won’t be penalized, according to a number of colleges and university admissions staff. However, if students want to enter a two- or four-year Minnesota state college or university, they’ll need to show other evidence of their skills to avoid being placed in a remedial course that does not earn college credit.

Those are my conclusions after a parent asked about this, and I checked with admissions offices at several Minnesota and Wisconsin colleges and universities.

The Minnesota Department of Education lists several results of opting out. First, students who don’t take the tests will be listed as “non-proficient.” Second, they will have to show other evidence of their math and reading skills; youngsters scoring at a certain level on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (aka MCA) reading and math tests won’t be required to take remedial courses on entering a Minnesota state college or university. And on a larger scale, students’ results affect their schools’ perceived performance: Each individual student’s score contributes to the overall test results of their school, which many people use as one way to judge a school’s effectiveness (I’ll write a future column on this issue).

Minnesota state law allows students to opt out of its statewide MCA testing program, which is being carried out this spring. Congress requires states to test elementary and secondary students. But some students and families prefer that students not take these tests.

Representatives of Minnesota’s two- and four-year public colleges and universities told me that students opting out of MCAs have other ways to show their skills and avoid remedial courses. Two-year public colleges such as Anoka-Ramsey, Dakota County Technical College, Inver Hills College and Normandale Community College accept all applicants who have a high school degree, regardless of test scores.

Amber Schultz, St. Cloud State University’s assistant vice president for admissions, said: “There’s no penalty for ‘opting out’ of the MCAs. We use the ACT tests for placement into reading and math courses.”

The University of Minnesota’s Heidi Meyer, executive director of office of admissions, wrote in part: “There is no penalty if a student opts out for statewide testing, … but we do need for a student to take either an ACT or an SAT to complete their application in order to review.”

My goal is not to encourage or discourage opting out of the MCA testing program by high school students. But as students consider their decisions, I hope information from various colleges and universities will help produce more informed choices.

Reactions welcome at joe@centerforschoolchange.org.