School test score delay takes a hotly-debated turn

ST. PAUL -- Democrats charge that Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants to delay the release of school test scores until after the Nov. 7 election because they could hurt his re-election chances.

ST. PAUL -- Democrats charge that Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants to delay the release of school test scores until after the Nov. 7 election because they could hurt his re-election chances.

The Republican governor's top education official countered on Tuesday that more time is needed to grade the tests this year because they are dramatically different than previous ones. Education leaders agree the delay is needed.

In any case, the change means most Minnesota parents will not know the scores their children's schools receive until after Nov. 15. Schools falling short could face penalties as harsh as a state take-over.

Experts say changes on the 14 types of tests likely will drive students' scores lower than on previous tests. Democrats say Pawlenty fears that will hurt his chances against their endorsed gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General Mike Hatch.

"We concluded that the governor is trying to bury the test scores until after the election," said Rep. Mindy Greiling of Roseville, a leading Democrat on education issues.


The dust-up surfaced Tuesday when the attorney general's office said the state cannot legally delay the release of test scores to the public. Pawlenty's education commissioner, Alice Seagren, fired back saying the law allows for the delay.

In an interview, Hatch said his office can do little more on the issue, although school district's could sue the state. However, Greiling and Vernae Hasbargen of the Minnesota Rural Education Association said that is unlikely because districts fear retaliation from the Education Department.

"This is proof this is an election year," Hasbargen said.

Hasbargen said she doesn't see a problem with a delay.

"This is clearly a one-time situation brought on by the development of these new tests," she said.

Charles Kyte of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators said some data has not even been figured into the scores. If scores are released before the information is included, it could mislead the public into thinking their schools fall short of education standards, he added.

Normally, Pawlenty releases school test results during the State Fair, which is scheduled to begin later this month. State law required them to be unveiled by Sept. 1, although Deputy Attorney General Kris Eiden and Seagren differ on whether a law change this year gives districts the ability to request their 2006 test scores release be delayed until Nov. 15. Districts already have received their preliminary scores.

Seagren said the data is too preliminary for public release, although schools could opt to release scores now.


"Our motivation was to make sure there was a fair process for all of the districts," Seagren said.

Hasbargen agreed with Seagren.

"I think the department really tried to get this monumental task done and in a reasonable time line," Hasbargen said.

So far, about 200 of Minnesota's 343 school districts have asked that their test scores not be released until Nov. 15. That is more than a week after the Nov. 7 election.

Hatch refused to call the administration's recommendation to delay release political, but did say: "The date of Nov. 15 is curious."

"Here we have a situation that the administration, which has put so much capital into these tests, now violates the law and hides the results either because the test itself is so flawed because it can't evaluate student performance or because student performance has dropped," the attorney general said.

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