Republicans accuse DFL, Walz of playing politics with MCA results release date

The DFL-controlled legislature approved a bill that grants the Department of Education until Dec. 1 — after the election — to release tests results to the public.

Rep. Krista Knudsen, R-Shore Lake, told her colleagues on the House floor last week that a DFL bill that would grant the Department of Education a 12-week extension on releasing MCA test results to the public is bad policy for schools and parents. (Minnesota House Info/YouTube)

For more than 20 years the Minnesota Department of Education has released to the public aggregated results of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment test during the first weeks of the school year — before or by Sept. 1, to be exact. That’s almost certain to change.

Last week DFL lawmakers who control the House stood firm in defending a provision in their education policy bill that would give MDE a 12-week extension to release MCA results to the public.

That would mean the public wouldn’t know until Dec. 1 the percentage of Minnesota students who are proficient at grade level in math, reading and science. The annual reports also provide a breakdown on grade-level proficiency by school and school district.

Since the outset of session in February, Republican legislators have fought to hold MDE to that Sept. 1 deadline. They claim that MDE’s request to push the date back three months harms the ability of school districts and parents to “course correct” for students early enough in the new school year. Some also allege the timing of such an extension gives voters the perception that MDE and Gov. Tim Walz are playing election-year shenanigans.

Last year’s MCA results showed continued fallout from pandemic-related school closures in 2020 and 2021. The Minnesota House of Representatives is up for elections this November.

DFLers were mostly silent on provision

On Thursday, Rep. Krista Knudsen, R-Lake Shore, offered an amendment on the House floor that would have stricken the reporting deadline extension provision from the omnibus education bill, SF3567. Democrats defeated the amendment on a party-line vote, and in doing so, didn’t offer much of a rebuttal.

“Delaying these (test results) another three months just denies the public the knowledge of how their school districts are performing,” said Knudsen, a member of the House Education Policy Committee who vocally opposed the provision during a hearing in March.

“Literally, by pushing these back we will not get our test score results for eight months after [students] take these tests … That renders them almost useless.”

The federal government requires states to administer statewide assessment exams to help districts measure student progress and meet the requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act .

Rep. Laurie Pryor, DFL-Minnetonka, the chief author of the bill, was the only Democrat to speak in support for giving MDE a permanent 12-week deadline extension. She said giving MDE an additional three months to report the MCA data to the public would allow the department more time “with making sure they had accurate information, verified information, and also that they were able to report it in a way that is most useful to folks.”

But Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, pondered whether the Walz-controlled Department of Education’s real reason for asking for an extension is elected related.

“This is an administrative problem,” Scott said during the April 11 floor debate. “The Walz administration needs to make it a priority, tell his own department to get these test results out, get them accumulated; check for accuracy … This is absolutely ridiculous that we would move this date out, especially past an election.”

The provision to push back MCA reporting to the public from Sept. 1 to Dec. 1 was included as part of Walz’s proposed changes that the Department of Education presented to legislators in February.

“We’re suggesting to shift this MDE reporting to Dec. 1 because this aligns with other states’ national practice,” Megan Arriola, legislative coordinator for MDE, explained to legislators during a presentation on the bill in February.

School principal-legislators on opposite sides of the issue

While most other states make their grade-level proficiency testing data available to the public on Dec. 1, many others, like neighboring Wisconsin, release their data during the first weeks of the new school year.

But Arriola told House Education Committee members that a Dec. 1 deadline “gives us a little bit of time to work with administrators, depending on their workload, get the data out that meets a national timeline and that MDE staff are confident that, given our ability to publish well before Dec. 1 in the past, we will continue to meet that deadline.”

Republicans are not sold on that reasoning.

Rep. Ben Bakeberg, R-Jordan, who opposes the 12-week deadline extension, is a public school principal.

“I was on a call with principals last October and the overwhelming consensus from assessment people in the district … we were asking for that school-wide data earlier — give it to us in July,” Bakeberg said during floor debate of the provision. “Because what happens in school districts, every one of them I’ve been in, we have a data meeting in the fall, prior to our staff coming back so that we can look at school-wide trends, look at patterns, so we can plan accordingly so we can meet the needs of kids in our community.”

Rep. Josiah Hill, DFL-Stillwater, a school principal, did not speak to the provision in an omnibus education bill that would give MDE until Dec. 1 to release MCA test results. Hill and his DFL colleagues voted against an amendment to strike that extension language from the bill. (Minnesota House Info/YouTube)

DFL lawmakers in the House who signed onto the bill include Rep. Josiah Hill, an assistant principal for Stillwater Area Schools. Hill did not speak on the amendment during debate over the issue on the House floor last week but voted against the amendment that would have kept the required MCA release date in September. He was also silent to the topic last month when Bakeberg, a fellow school administrator, moved that the deadline extension be stricken from the bill.

“We don’t have to bow to the whims of the Department (of Education),” Bakeberg said. “We can hold their feet to the fire and say, nope, this is bad policy. Get your job done and if you can’t do that, maybe we need new people in those positions.”


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.