Schools across Minnesota are gearing up for a tougher reading test this spring, an exam that will reflect new literacy standards the state adopted as part of a national initiative called Common Core.
Reading passages will be longer on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment. Questions will be trickier. And students will read less literature and more nonfiction to prepare, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Tuesday (http://bit.ly/128bZiJ ).
"Not only are the new standards much higher, but the demands of the test are huge," said Teajai Anderson Schmidt, the literacy program manager for St. Paul Public Schools.
Teachers said they welcome the higher bar, while expressing concerns that the test might take a lot longer to complete. The state has urged districts to set aside as much as five hours for the test, which students generally will take in two or more chunks.
Results will be available in mid-August. Officials caution against comparing them with scores from earlier tests.
Minnesota secured a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law, so failing to hit proficiency targets on the MCAs won't carry all penalties it did in previous years. Nevertheless, districts will be watching the scores closely.
Minnesota signed on to the Common Core language arts and literacy standards in 2010, while opting out of the math standards. Forty-six states have adopted the reading requirements, which contain shared expectations of what students should know in each grade.
A key change for many educators has been the new focus on "informational text" — scientific articles, speeches, essays, video and social media. Many are spending less time on literature as a result. Supporters of the new standards say students must learn to analyze such texts to succeed in college and later on the job.
On a recent afternoon, students in Beth Swenson's fifth-grade classroom at Westview Elementary in the St. Paul suburb of Apple Valley put down "Attack of the Vampire Weenies," ''Diary of a Wimpy Kid" and other novels they had picked for a few minutes of independent reading. They settled on the floor in front of an easel where Swenson had tacked an article about a college student who underwent a bone marrow transplant.
Swenson started reading out loud, pausing often to toss questions at students. For example, what did they think about the woman's decision to put off dealing with hip pain until after the end of track season?
"I think she's going to regret that because when you get cancer, it can spread," offered one student after the class deciphered the meaning of the word "sarcoma."
Another student, however, pointed to an earlier mention of a track scholarship that the woman was probably afraid to lose.
Jennifer Dugan, the state's testing director, said that until actual students sit for the test, the estimate that it will take up to five hours is an educated guess, aimed at ensuring districts that allow plenty of time so students don't feel rushed.
Page 2 of 2 - Scott Voss, past president of the Minnesota Reading Association, said a test should be able to size up reading proficiency in less than four hours.
"I would be concerned if our state reading test takes longer than the ACT or SAT," he said. "Beyond that, you either have a highly inefficient test or you're just torturing students."