Democratic Sen. Kevin Dahle of Northfield said benchmarks don't always indicate career or college readiness.

Minnesota lawmakers are considering a proposal to do away with high-stakes graduation exams for high school students and replace them with tests designed to gauge whether they are ready for college or the workforce.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Thursday ( the tests wouldn't require a certain score to get a diploma — a proposal that has encountered resistance from Republican lawmakers and business owners.

"Most of us would agree that we need to do some reform of testing to make it more meaningful. But the idea that we get rid of benchmarks and cutoff scores ... it's baffling," said Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes. "What happens if you don't have a goal to shoot for?"

Democratic Sen. Kevin Dahle of Northfield said benchmarks don't always indicate career or college readiness. He said a group of educators voted overwhelmingly in November to drop the graduation tests, and he'll resist efforts to make a passing score a prerequisite to a diploma.

Under the bill, students would start taking college readiness exams in eighth grade. Students now take the writing test for the first time in ninth grade, reading in 10th grade and math in 11th grade.

This will be the fourth year that students have to pass reading and writing exams to earn a diploma. Eighty percent of Minnesota students passed the reading test on their first try and 92 percent passed the writing exam on their first try. About 58 percent of students pass the math test the first time.

For now, Minnesota students can fail the math test and still graduate, as long as other conditions are met. Minnesota's graduation rate was 78 percent last year. Dave Heistad, executive director of research, evaluation and assessment for Bloomington schools, said if students were required to pass the math test, the rate would drop at least 15 percent.

"It's good to have a high standard. But the math test cut score is way too high for a minimal requirement," Heistad said. "And I don't think that should be a reason to hold some kids back in high school."

Business groups and Republicans like the idea of reformatting graduation tests and aligning them with college-entrance exams, such as the ACT. But students should still meet a minimum bar before graduating, said Jim Bartholomew, education policy director for the Minnesota Business Partnership.

"Students should feel confident that if they get a high school diploma, it means something," Bartholomew said. "And it means then can succeed in college or on the job."

Proponents of the measure say that by starting the tests in eighth grade, students can see if their reading, writing, math and science skills are on track for what they want to do after high school.

"It involves students in the planning process," said Rick Spicuzza, deputy superintendent for Mounds View Public Schools. "What are you planning to do? Here's how you are performing and where you need to be."