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A matter of interpretation

A group of Minnesota school districts is at odds with Gov. Arne Carlson's administration over how difficult the state's 8th grade reading test really is.

At stake is how Minnesotans should interpret the results from the tests, which students must pass to graduate. This year, 71 percent of the 8th graders who took the mathematics test passed, while 68 percent passed the reading test.

The Association of Metropolitan School Districts, made up of 24 Twin Cities-area systems, asserts that the average difficulty of the reading passages ranges from grade 9 to beyond high school. The association analyzed the test using the Degrees of Reading Power program, developed by Touchstone Applied Science Associates Inc. of Brewster, N.Y.

Mark Mallander, the executive director of the districts' group, said the analysis was performed because Minnesota politicians have used the test results to "bash public school performance."

"If it's 6th grade material and 30 percent fail, that's one thing,"he said. "If it's high school and 30 percent fail it, that's an entirely different thing."

But the association's inquiry sparked questions from Mr. Carlson's office. Bernie Omann, the Republican governor's chief of staff, sent Mr. Mallander a letter last month asking for copies of the association's minutes. He also requested a copy of the study; Mr. Mallander's job description, salary, and salaries of the association's employees; and its mission statement.

When he heard about the letter, state Rep. Matt Entenza, a St. Paul Democrat and member of the House education committee, charged in a press conference that it was "a clear attempt to intimidate anyone who's a critic."

Mr. Entenza said he intends to ask the governor's office to explain itself in upcoming hearings, which also will probe the test results and how they should be interpreted.

Jackie Renner, Mr. Carlson's spokeswoman, said the association answered Mr. Omann's queries last week. The reading test was developed by 500 Minnesota teachers and administrators, she noted, and produced by a national testing company.

In comparison, she asserted, the association's analysis doesn't stack up. "Most parents agree you should be able to read a newspaper by time you're in 8th grade," she said, "and that's what the test measures."

--ANN BRADLEY [email protected]

Vol. 17, Issue 36, Page 19

Published in Print: May 20, 1998, as State Journal

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