Educator Edition: 11-7-22

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An update from Academic Standards, Instruction and Assessment

Vol. 1, No. 3: Nov. 7, 2022

Updates From MDE

Q&A About Standards Implementation

On Oct. 11, the Academic Standards Team held two Curriculum Director meetings. The meetings were well attended, and as a result the Academic Standards Team is discussing offering similar opportunities a few times each year. Science, Arts and Computer Science District Leaders meetings are currently scheduled to meet during this school year as well. District Curriculum Leaders feedback on a follow-up survey from the meetings will allow MDE Academic Standards Implementation Team to prioritize and plan where a majority of districts need support with Academic Standards Implementation. We invite you to complete the survey. The Curriculum Director meeting presentation will also be posted to the website upon ADA compliance approval. Details on the additional meetings are forthcoming. The following are some questions that came up at the recent meetings:

Q: What is the best way to know about professional development that MDE or other professional organizations are offering?

A: In this Educator Edition newsletter, we will try to give notice of the upcoming sessions hosted both by MDE and those hosted by other professional organizations.

Q: Where do we find information on rulemaking and drafts of standards that are currently in the rulemaking process?

A: Once the standards have been reviewed by the commissioner and the rulemaking process has begun, the standards will be posted on the Academic Standards page of the MDE website and labeled as a “Draft” or “Version 3.” The English Language Arts and Social Studies standards are currently in the rulemaking process. Once the rulemaking process is complete, the standards are posted as a final copy. At that point, MDE will work on posting a spreadsheet version and a learning progressions version for districts and educators to use.

Q: What flexibility is there for standards implementation when something impacts implementation at the district level?

A: District curriculum leaders should communicate with MDE to identify solutions and find ways to implement those solutions. Districts should have an implementation plan and communicate it to their constituents regularly over the years of implementation. There is a document to help with communicating about assessment results in the transition to new academic standards for science on the Testing 1, 2, 3 website under Science Resources.

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Minnesota Data and Assessment Literacy (MnDAL) Online Learning Modules: Strand 1 for Leaders

Last month, the first strand of the Minnesota Data and Assessment Literacy (MnDAL) modules were published in Canvas for teachers. We are excited to announce that the Leader strand of modules is also now available in Canvas. Some of the content from the educator series is similar, but some is specific to topics and questions that are more relevant to school- or district-level leaders.  

  • Module 1: The Role of Assessment in a Coherent Learning System*
  • Module 2: Balanced, Comprehensive and Equitable Assessment Systems*
  • The Role of Statewide Assessments in a Balanced, Comprehensive and Equitable Assessment System*
  • Leading a Local System of Assessment that is Balanced, Comprehensive and Equitable

Module titles indicated with a (*) represent content offered in both the educator and leader sequences, but with role-specific reflection and application activities.

Accessing MnDAL Modules

Links to each module's content are posted on the On-Demand Learning page of the Testing 1, 2, 3 website under the expandable section titled “Leader Online Learning Modules.” The module links will direct you to MDE’s Canvas page. You will then need to click the “Join this course” button in the upper right corner.

If you do not have an MDE Canvas account, select the “I am a new user” radio button, enter your email in the Username field, enter your first and last name in the Full Name field, and agree to the Acceptable use policy. Select “Enroll in Course” and then select “Go to the Course” to access the modules in Canvas. Note: You will receive an email asking you to finish setting up your account, by creating your password for future logins.

Data and Assessment Literacy in Action

As part of the MnDAL module series, participants can engage with slides, articles, videos, activities, and tools that can be used within Canvas or downloaded to use for professional learning within your context. A featured article from the MnDAL modules for school and system leaders released this month is: “A Human-Centered Approach to Assessment: Spring Grove Public Schools.” This district spotlight features the work of Spring Grove Public Schools toward implementing an assessment system and a culture of data and assessment literacy that aligns to core values around integrated, student-centered learning, teacher and student agency, and community engagement. Each strand of the module series will feature a case study or example of different Minnesota districts or schools trying innovative assessment work.

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Upcoming Opportunities

MNSHAPE Annual Conference

The Minnesota Society of Health and Physical Educators (MNSHAPE) invites all PreK–16 physical education and health teachers, as well as school administrators, curriculum directors, and any others with a specified interest in these content areas, to join them at the annual conference. The MNSHAPE conference will be held Nov. 7–8 at Lakeville High School in Lakeville, Minn. More information is available on the Fall Conference page of the MNSHAPE website.

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Alternate Assessment Coffee Break

Meet with Alternate Assessment Specialists to Give Feedback and Ask Questions

The Academic Standards, Instruction and Assessment Division will host a coffee break session for MTAS test administrators and special education staff to ask any questions around alternate assessment and to share feedback. Join us on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 4–5 p.m., via Zoom: Alternate Assessment Coffee Break. Bring your favorite beverage, along with your questions and any feedback you have, to share at this informal time focused around alternate assessment. This month, we will share the exciting changes to the Spring 2023 MTAS with the addition of reading and science field test items. For more information, contact

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Important Ideas and Research

MCA Scores and Data are Here … Now What?

Students, schools, and districts have received the spring 2022 MCA scores and data and now educators may find themselves asking “Now what? What, if anything, can I do with this information?” Especially since the MCA information they have is from last year, and from students who have moved on to the next grade.

When reviewing statewide assessment results, it is important to remember the following:

  • Results are one piece of a district’s assessment system. Information from each system layer (classroom, district, state) works together to guide teaching and learning of the standards.
  • Results represent a snapshot of student learning of the standards. They are broader in scope than information produced in the classroom, where the learning takes place.
  • Results should be used at the summarized level (across student groups, grades, school buildings) to help identify underlying inequities and highlight promising practices.
    • As such, it is inappropriate to use MCA Scores for student placement. They do not provide the full picture of the student.
  • Results should always be used alongside additional evidence of student learning when used for data-based decision-making.
  • Results should not be subtracted from two different years to determine “growth” (e.g., 548 ─ 438 does not mean an improvement of “10”). Growth on the MCA cannot be measured that way.

Subtraction to show growth does not work because the scores are not on the same scale for any two grade-level tests. This is because each test is independent of a previous or subsequent grade. Here’s the chart for math:

Chart: Scale Score Ranges for Each Achievement Level

For example, compare Grade 5 to Grade 4. The lowest and highest possible scores differ quite a bit for these two grades, but there are differences across all the grades. Please share this with parents, and with school and district leaders. Share the file "Understanding MCA Scale Scores" with others.

Here are four suggestions of what could be done with the 2021-2022 MCA data in the 2022-2023 school year. These are not listed in order of importance.

  1. Review your school and/or district benchmark report (here’s a video about them) with a group of educators. You will have to ask your District Assessment Coordinator for these reports. These reports are a good place to develop questions about instructional materials. When reviewing these reports go through a Notice and Wonder process. Some other questions to ask are: Which strands and benchmarks did students, overall, do well in? Which ones were not well understood? Is this because of the materials? Scope-and-sequence? This information is also available for the 2018-2019 school year. Do you see any similarities? Differences? Here are some other questions to consider.

a. Review your grade-level benchmark report to reflect on last year’s instruction and materials.

b. Review the prior grade-level benchmark report to reflect on how instruction this year may be accelerated based on trends.

c. Review the subsequent grade-level benchmark report and reflect on what can be addressed in this year’s instruction to further prepare students for next year.

  1. When meeting or communicating with parents, share the Understanding the MCA ISR Video (or Quick Guide) to help them understand and dispel misunderstandings of what the scores mean. Also, remember to share the chart mentioned above. Share "Understanding MCA Scale Scores" with others. Ask parents and students what questions they have about their student’s scores. They may not know what to ask but have wonderings. Here are some questions to prompt a conversation. If you get a question you’re not sure of, please email us ( and we’ll help answer it!
  1. Take a look at the Standards Progression document and information video in relationship to where standards and benchmarks are coming from and where they are going across grades.
  2. Review the Benchmark Achievement Level Descriptors for benchmarks of interest. How do these descriptions compare to the text books and other instructional materials?

Finally, remember that we were all in a pandemic for multiple years and grace is necessary. Some children missed an entire month straight (or more) in the 2021-22 school year due to COVID-19. That doesn’t mean they can’t do what was missed, or shouldn’t complete unfinished learning. It’s just what happened. They can do this! You can do this! All of your students can do this! It may not be easy, but it's 100% possible.

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How to Avoid Overloading Students’ Working Memory

In this Edutopia article, teacher/researcher Ian Kelleher said students’ working memory can be a “huge bottleneck to learning.” This is because the amount of real-time information the human brain can handle, also known as its cognitive load, is estimated to be only three to five tasks per 10–20 seconds. If teachers overload students’ working memory, “learning is hard or impossible.” Even if students seem to be understanding during a lesson, very little will make it into long-term memory if there’s cognitive overload.

Kelleher recommends reducing extraneous cognitive load by providing temporary scaffolding. “Anything that isn’t intrinsic to the learning task itself, or isn’t part of the process of helping it stick in students’ long-term memory, is extraneous cognitive load,” he said. He suggests the following tips:

1. Keep assignments and directions clear and simple. This is especially important with homework, when students are working independently. “Remember that your students are novice learners in the subject, whereas you’re an expert.” For assignments, Kelleher recommends the following practices:

  • Number each step.
  • Make sure all students have easy access to needed resources.
  • Check for evidence of learning of prerequisite knowledge and skills.
  • Limit the ways students can submit their work.
  • Align homework assignments closely with class work.
  • Remember for homework assignments, quality is more important than quantity.

2. Improve the classroom work environment. Eliminating distracting noise is part of Classroom Management 101, and that extends to sounds and visuals. “Everything there should have a purpose,” Kelleher said. “Design, don’t decorate. Have less on show at once, and rotate it as the year goes on.”

3. Present visual content effectively by:

  • Providing only the text and visuals the learner needs.
  • Giving students verbal cues on what to look at.
  • Minimizing the amount of text, and “Prompt students to read the text and give them time.”
  • Using humor with caution, and only when it amplifies the idea being taught.

4. Nurture each student’s sense of belonging. “For many students, for many reasons, much of their active working memory may be taken up with things not related to the topic of your class. To what extent do you help each student feel safe, build their trust, and feel that their unique story matters in your class?

5. Build in temporary scaffolds. “These help students to offload some of their thinking onto paper, so that they have less ‘new stuff’ to hold in their working memory at once.” Here are some examples:

  • Visual planning sheets to help students organize their thinking. Students might be explicitly told that these will help free up space in active working memory so they can think more deeply.
  • With a multi-week project, students might have a single-column rubric for check-ins.
  • When launching a new curriculum unit, plan short activities to help students “awaken” and connect their prior knowledge and experience.

How to Reduce the Cognitive Load on Students During Lessons” by Ian Kelleher in Edutopia, Sept. 16, 2022

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Academic Standards, Instruction and Assessment

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