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Writing Test: A Discouraging Word?
by Tim Pugmire
February 8, 2000
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Minnesota legislators are considering whether to ban state education officials from ever again using a contentious tenth-grade writing test question. Lawmakers who objected to the question, today backed away from their earlier proposal to throw out the test results. A House committee debated the issue but took no action.

The bill requiring the destruction of the writing test is HF2720.
See bill | See status
MINNESOTA TENTH GRADERS took the basic-standards writing test, which is required for graduation, on January 26th. Students were told to write a composition on what they'd like to change about themselves. Many students, parents and legislators complained that question was intrusive and too personal. Independent Representative Doug Reuter tried unsuccessfully on the opening day of the session to toss out the offending test. He went before the House Education Policy Committee to try again.
Reuter: Members, I renew my concern to you on this committee. I believe firmly that we need to test the writing ability of students before we give them a diploma. I don't even mind so much that this be made part of their record. I mind that this particular test question be part of their record.
Under the amended bill before the committee, scores from this year's test would go onto the students' records, but the actual compositions would go back to the students, who could then destroy them to prevent others from reading them.

Republican Representative Tony Kielkucki says his bill would also prevent state education officials from ever using the same question. He says the question is inappropriate for many teens.
"I think the idea to throw out the entire test is unconscionable."

- Christine Jax
Commissioner, Department of Children, Families and Learning
Hear Jax on MPR's Midmorning.
Kielkucki: I have learned after 25 years of trying to help kids with their self image, that you never can leave them dangling on a negative note. You always have to encourage the positive. Even if you use this kind of technique, you have to bring it back to the positive. And this test didn't do that.
But many tenth graders had no negative reactions to the test question. Four students testified before the committee urging legislators to preserve this year's test results. Javen Swanson of Pine River-Backus High School said he had no problem with the question.
Swanson: The idea that this prompt was too personal never even entered my mind until I heard about it on the news. Even if the prompt was too personal, the directions given never stated that we had to divulge our most personal inadequacies. I have a friend who chose to write about changing something as impersonal as his sloppy handwriting. The directions never said that the trait we chose to write about even had to be one that really exsisted.
State education officials have already offered any student who wishes a chance to re-take the test using a new question. Christine Jax, commissioner of the Department of Children Families and Learning, did not appear before the committee, but she says she opposes any attempt to make all students take the test a second time.
Jax: I think the idea to throw out the entire test is unconscionable. I think it's very unfair those tenth graders who passed the test. Why make someone take a test over if they've passed it? Especially if they didn't have any trouble with the question.
State education officials say the results of this year's writing tests won't be back to the schools until early May. The House Education Policy will meet again Thursday to try to decide what might happen with the test results.