In the Spotlight

News & Features
Session 2000: A Better Profile?
by Tim Pugmire
May 18, 2000
Part of MPR's coverage of Session 2000
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

Listen to the May 18, 2000 edition of MPR's Midday program which featured a discussion about the modified Profile of Learning. Listen online.
Teachers and school administrators throughout Minnesota are reacting to the state Legislature's fix of the Profile of Learning graduation standards. Lawmakers ended the session early this morning by modifying the two-year-old system of demonstrated learning. Some educators are applauding the changes, while others say it's not enough to ease their frustrations or end the political uncertainty.

IN AN ENGLISH classroom at Tartan High School in Oakdale, Nancy Olson leads her students in a discussion of the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. Olson has been critical of the show-what-you know profile system and the burden she says it's placed on teachers and students. She credits lawmakers for addressing many of the system's worst problems, but she's still not happy with the Legislature deciding what goes on in her classroom.

"I would like politicians to stop telling me what to do," she says. "I'm a professional. I'm good at determining what my students need to do and I want politicians to stop telling me how to do my job."

Olson and many other teachers, parents and students have complained loudly about the Profile since it became a requirement for every Minnesota school district in 1998. Under the system, students must demonstrate what they've learned through projects and performances. Memorization and test-taking are less prominent. Students must meet 24 of 48 content standards to graduate. The most common complaints were about the added paperwork and record keeping, a hard to understand grading system and cumbersome lesson plans known as performance packages.

Tartan sophomore Jonathan Westin says the Profile tasks are time consuming. "The teachers spend so much time implementing the grad standards we don't get time to cover materials. For instance, in History we were doing American History from the 1700s to the present, and we didn't even get to the '80s or '90s because we took two weeks out of our class to do a grad standard."

The legislation passed by the House and Senate addresses most of the implementation problems. Performance packages are made optional, the scoring system is simplified, and districts can decide on a school-by-school basis whether to temporarily reduce the 24 standards requirement. It also provides exemptions from the requirements for this year's 9th and 10th grade students.

Judy Schaubach, co-president of the statewide teachers' union, "Education Minnesota," says she's pleased with the legislation. "We think the bill goes a long way towards addressing issues we raised early in the session, and believe it will make it easier for teachers to do their jobs and also provide some flexibility for districts so kids aren't caught in middle during transition time," she said.

But some educators say that flexibility undermines the whole idea statewide standards. Clete Lipetzky, principal of Tartan High School says he opposes reducing the number of required standards unless it's done statewide. He also opposes waivers for 9th and 10th graders.

Lipetzky says the shifting political winds around the Profile have had a negative impact on schools. "It's hard to find people dedicating themselves to major changes when we don't know how long they're going to stay in effect," Lipetzky says. "I know my teachers who have been working hard with 9th and 10th graders are somewhat subdued today because they've been telling the students they must do the standards and now the legislature is saying that's not necessarily so."

Lipetzky says he doesn't expect any votes at Tartan to temporarily reduce the number of required content standards. But other high schools could soon start discussing the option. Kathy Strand is a teacher and graduations standards coordinator at Champlin Park High School. She says she thinks many of her colleagues in the Anoka-Hennepin School District might want take that vote. "I don't see people jumping up and down and getting excited in some of the schools, but by the same token I know our school is a little bit feisty and I feel strongly that if this is brought to the attention of the staff executive council, that they're going to jump on it and say hey wait a minute, we have some site-based decision making here, and we as a school have to decide what we're going to do," Strand says.

Strand says she does not think the Legislature did enough to fix the flaws in the Profile system or to ensure a uniform set of statewide standards. She's pleased lawmakers made the last minute decision against giving districts a choice of the North Star Standard. Supporters of that back-to-basic approach, which puts more emphasis on testing, say they plan to push their idea again in the next legislative session. Many teachers say the promise of more debate is the only thing certain about the Profile of Learning.