Educator Edition: 3-6-23

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An Update from Academic Standards, Instruction and Assessment

Vol. 1, No. 7: March 6, 2023

Updates From MDE

Soft Release of the MCA Student Readiness Tools

In 2018, MDE gathered input from a number of educators to revise our current student resources (item samplers and student tutorials) for the MCA. Based on that feedback, it was determined that educators and students need different things:

Educators must be familiar with content that is aligned to the Minnesota Academic Standards, and need resources that can be used to inform instruction. The MQT was released last summer to address educator needs and is available on the Released MCA Questions page of the Testing 1, 2, 3 website.

Students, however, need to become familiar with the test format and types of items, rather than the content, since they prepare for the content through daily instruction based on the academic standards.

New student resources, called the Student Readiness Tools (SRTs), are now available on PearsonAccess Next, under Preparing for Testing, to prepare students for taking the MCA online or on paper. These tools are available as a soft release for this spring before replacing the existing resources (item samplers and student tutorials) in 2023–24.

The online SRT may be accessed on PearsonAccess Next. No login information is needed. Students may select their grade level to review videos and practice activities on how to navigate within the test, how to use tools, and how item types function.

The paper SRT is available for students taking the MCA using paper test materials. The paper SRT shows students how to navigate through paper test books and answer different types of items. Note: The 24-point paper SRTs will be available by Thursday, March 16.

Braille and scripts will not be available for the soft release, but will be available next year.

A teacher’s guide to the paper SRT is currently available. The teacher’s guide for the online SRT will be available on Tuesday, March 7.

Since this is a soft release, each district will determine which student resources to use for this school year. Check with your District Assessment Coordinators (DACs) on planned use, if any, within your district. Staff may also choose to review the SRTs to become familiar with them this spring. Students, staff, and DACs will be able to provide feedback based on their use or review of the SRT.

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Academic Standards Team Members Love to Connect with Educators

The members of the Academic Standards team look forward to the spring because we are able to connect with educators around Minnesota at conferences hosted by professional organizations. These conferences are days of learning together with educators and offering presentations to help educators understand standards, evidence-based practices, and measuring student learning. We are excited for the spring and thought we would pass along some of the presentations we will be offering at conferences. We hope to see some of you at these conferences.

Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics Spring Conference, April 20–22, in Duluth

  • Modeling: A Common Math & Science Practice (see both MDE Math and Science specialists at the conference)
  • Math Language Routines with the Minnesota Standards
  • 2022 Minnesota Math Standards MDE Update
  • Minnesota Data and Assessment Literacy Session: Intro to Online Courses for Teachers and Leaders

Minnesota Council of Teachers of English conference: Sustaining the Language Arts, May 4­–5 in Duluth

  • Instructional Best Practices that Support the 2020 ELA Standards
  • Benchmarks in the 2020 ELA standards

Hormel Gifted and Talented Education In-Person Symposium, June 13–15, in Austin

Reach out to us if your district would like more information on acceleration, computer science talent in elementary school students, or the Minnesota Gifted Education Law and Reporting. Our team members have presented on these topics recently.

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Upcoming Opportunities

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 series of virtual coffee break sessions for MTAS test administrators and special education staff to ask any questions around alternate assessment, share your feedback, and connect with other special education staff from across the state. Join us on Tuesday, March 14, 4-5 p.m. via Zoom: Alternate Assessment Coffee Break. Please register for the Alternative Assessment Coffee Break. Bring your favorite beverage, along with your questions and any feedback you have, to share at this informal time focused on alternate assessment. This month we will be discussing the Learner Characteristics Inventory (LCI), scheduling for MTAS administration, and preparing for MTAS administration. The next Coffee Break will be held April 11, 4-5 p.m. For more information, contact

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Important Ideas and Research

Impact of Innovative Scheduling and Instruction

Elementary schools often provide students with learning environments where class schedules are grouped into mornings and afternoons, with a variety of time spent in each class. Some classes are integrated. Class schedules at the elementary level often include additional learning opportunities during the core, which include enrichment and remediation. Many elementary school schedules also include art, music, physical education, computer science, media, etc., as a part of the instructional day to ensure the education of the whole child.

Why do we change from this model as students get older? The expectation of meeting academic standards is the same. Bundling standards into units while using curriculum resources to support the standards is the same. Imagine a second-grader sitting in a 45-minute course. Why do we expect middle and high school students to do the same?

It is important to identify that through scheduling districts have several opportunities to impact the student experience along with performance. The pandemic has demonstrated that instructional minutes matter.

Do students who sit in class for 45 minutes perform better than those who sit in class 52 minutes a day? Some would argue that with the additional seven minutes per instructional day they are making gains, while others would say it depends. Why does it depend?

Minnesota Statutes, section 120A.41, requires the school board’s annual calendar to include at least 165 days of instruction for a student in grades 1 through 11, unless a four-day week schedule has been approved by the commissioner under section 124D.126. In addition, the minimum number of instructional hours expected for students include: 850 for full-day Kindergarten, 935 for grades 1–6, and 1,020 hours for grades 7–12.

Minnesota does not have requirements for instruction time specific to courses or content areas. There must be sufficient time to satisfactorily complete all required academic standards and benchmarks, as well as the state graduation credit requirements under Minnesota Statutes, section 120B.024. Districts are encouraged to approach instruction through a variety of lenses, including goals, priorities, and values of the district and learning community to determine how instructional minutes are used. This flexibility in school schedules can lay the groundwork for instructional change and change in educational culture.

Recently, with the arts requirements in middle school, Alina Campana, Minnesota Department of Education arts education content specialist, partnered with Nichole Laven, Minnesota Department of Education standards implementation manager, to facilitate learning and discussion around the power of scheduling to meet the new arts requirements in middle schools. Making Decisions about Middle School Schedules and Arts Offerings was shared with attendees and is posted on the Arts Standards Implementation page of the MDE website.

The Principal’s Playbook and A Practical Guide to Common Bell Schedules provided models and definitions to support district options. The practical guide has free resources to help districts rethink their school schedules. Within this resource, schools are asked to focus on organizational design, pushing schools to question their assumptions about learning and staffing.

Districts across Minnesota are having to evaluate and make changes to the instructional day through examining course offerings, seat time, staff support, flex time, shared staff, instructional facility use, teacher licensures, and school days.

With districts examining instructional days, some are also re-examining the use of instructional minutes.

“Letting these schools focus on time first … they naturally start to move toward thinking about new instructional strategies. Focusing on the time we have is critical, then focus on the logical next step to figure out how to best use that time.” Mathewson, Tara. “Does lunch have to be 45 minutes? Rethinking school schedules to support innovation.” The Hechinger Report. July 11, 2019. Rethinking school schedules to support innovation, teacher collaboration (

In 2003, Dr. Robert Marzano’s research indicates “Innovative and purposeful scheduling might not add hours to the school day, but they can drastically improve the quality of the time students are in school, protect and maximize both instructional time and time on task, and improve the effectiveness and efficiency and efficiency of instructional time.” Canady, Robert and Rettig, Michael. “Scheduling.” The Principal’s Playbook.

Dr. Marzano’s research indicates the amount of time a student is in class or time to task has an effect size of .39; however, the opportunities to learn has double the effect size of time at .88 on student academic success. This is critical to consider when evaluating scheduling and learning. The table below shows the research data.


Avg. ES

Percentile Gain

Opportunity to Learn









Pressure to achieve



School Climate










With district autonomy in scheduling to use these instructional minutes:

  • Could scheduling changes address the teacher shortage issues?
  • Could scheduling allow districts to use teacher licenses differently?
  • Could we free up our teachers for more collaboration time and observation of colleagues?
  • Would students get more of what they need for targeted instructional practices?

Scheduling changes are not easy and often cause systemic ripples or tidal waves. Innovative scheduling also takes several meetings and could take years to implement through the reflective process due to the challenges districts face with contracts, space, organizational structures, transportation, licensing, size, enrollment, shared staff, and course minimums. However, now is the time to start examining how we can do things differently. Bringing educators, bargaining groups, and community stakeholders, including families and students, together is important as districts brainstorm solutions to the challenges and possibilities.

Districts have made great strides in the implementation of providing staff with early release, late starts, job-embedded professional development, transportation schedule changes, or start and end times. Students, too, need this same opportunity for districts to leverage their local control to create learning opportunities where seat time does not determine student access and success.

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Academic Standards, Instruction and Assessment

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