Educator Edition: 10-2-23

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An update from Academic Standards, Instruction and Assessment

Vol. 2, No. 2: Oct. 2, 2023

Updates From MDE

Physical Education Updates

The 2018 Minnesota K–12 Academic Standards in Physical Education Standards should be fully implemented by this school year (2023–24). Full implementation means that by the 2023–24 school year, instruction in physical education in grades K–8 must include all of the 2018 Minnesota K–12 Academic Standards in Physical Education, and courses at the high school level through which students meet physical education graduation requirements must include the 2018 Minnesota Academic Standards in Physical Education.

The 2023 legislative session made some changes to state statutes regarding physical education. See MDE’s Physical Education Standards Implementation webpage to view an overview of those changes.

Survey for Computer Science Education in K–8

MDE is convening a Computer Science Education Working Group as part of the Computer Science Education Advancement Program. The working group will be developing a state strategic plan for a statewide computer science education program. The strategic plan must include a summary of the current state landscape for kindergarten through grade 12 computer science, include diversity of students taking these courses. Through the Minnesota Common Course Catalog, MDE has access to data on grade 9–12 computer science education. MDE has assembled a survey to gather information about computer science education in kindergarten through grade 8. The Computer Science Education Survey will be open until Oct. 27. Please contact if you need support completing the survey or have any questions.

Test Specifications Posted for Science and Reading MCA-IV and Alternate MCA

Assessments are typically designed to collect evidence for one of the following purposes: to indicate students who may need additional support before the end of the school year, evaluate programs and policies, summarize individual achievement, or provide information useful to instruction. There is no single assessment that can be used to support all purposes. The MCA-IV and Alternate MCA statewide assessments serve an evaluative purpose as they are used in the accountability system to ensure all students have access to rigorous, standards-based content across the state and can be used by district and school leaders to evaluate curricula and instructional program alignment to standards.

For the next series of assessments aligned to the revised standards, the Science MCA-IV and Science Alternate MCA test specifications, as well as the Reading MCA-IV and Reading Alternate MCA test specifications, are currently posted. The MCA-IV and Alternate MCA test specifications provide a summary blueprint for test construction, specifying the planned reporting categories and the number or percentage of questions in each. This blueprint outlines the test design to provide consistency and transparency across test forms for the life of the assessments.

As our division name indicates, academic standards, instruction and assessment are deeply connected. The development of the MCA-IV and Alternate MCA series of assessments is focused on the role of assessment, seeking to foster instruction aligned to standards by measuring what matters and monitoring implementation of standards statewide. Our division is committed to supporting standards-based instruction in classrooms so that students’ learning can be reflected on the MCA-IV and Alternate MCA.

Because of this commitment, the test specifications for MCA-IV and Alternate MCA will look different than those for MCA-III, including that benchmark-level information is not available. Keep in mind that support for understanding the standards and standards-instruction is available from MDE Academic Standards content specialists. MDE encourages schools and educators to explore and reference the standards implementation resources on the K–12 Academic Standards webpage.

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Guidance for Universal Supports and Accommodations for Minnesota Statewide Assessments 2023–24

All public school students participate in statewide assessments, and it is important to clarify the role of universal supports and accommodations when considering how students will participate in the English language proficiency accountability assessments (ACCESS and WIDA Alternate ACCESS) and the standards-based accountability assessments (MCA and MTAS). Supports and accommodations do not change the construct intended to be measured by the assessment or the integrity of test results.

MDE has created a guidance document, Guidance for Universal Supports and Accommodations for Minnesota Statewide Assessments, intended to be used by district and school staff who have a role in decision-making and/or test administration with universal supports and accommodations for statewide assessments. A stand-alone version of an infographic summarizing the available universal supports and accommodations for the MCAs is also available.

Part of this guidance includes a reorganization of how supports and accommodations are presented for statewide assessments. This new framework replaces the former categorization (general supports, linguistic supports, and accommodations). While there are now only two main categories (universal supports and accommodations), additional subcategories have been used to better organize and describe available supports. Linguistic supports have been recategorized as universal supports to reduce the complexity in determining appropriate supports for all learners. It also recognizes a more inclusive population of multilingual learners, as some universal supports may be appropriate for English learners, former English learners and/or students who have participated in dual language education programs.

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Upcoming Opportunities

Increased Need for Educator and Community Members During Transition to MCA-IV Series

The primary purpose of the standards-based accountability assessments is to measure student learning of the Minnesota Academic Standards. As academic standards are revised, a new series of assessments, the MCA-IV and the Alternate MCA, must be developed to align with the revised standards.

As part of the transition to a new assessment series, MDE reviews current passages and/or test questions for alignment to the revised standards while also beginning new development of passages and/or questions. New development is brought to educator and community members for feedback through annual MCA and Alternate MCA Review Committees.

In addition, a new series of assessments also creates several one-time opportunities that require educator and community members coming together to provide input on how the revised standards will be assessed:

  • Test Specifications Committees
  • Achievement Level Descriptor Work Groups
  • Alignment Study Committees
  • Standard Setting Committees

With these one-time committees for the Science, Reading and Math MCA-IV and Alternate MCA series, there is an increased need for more educators and community members from around the state to serve on these committees and work groups. Their participation and feedback help MDE create statewide assessments that reflect the rich diversity and experiences of all Minnesota students and that are relevant for all student demographics and learning contexts. Committees that are representative of our student population are essential to the test development process.

Please encourage the following individuals in your districts to participate and collaborate with educators and peers across the state through these assessment committees:

  • Math, English language arts, and science classroom educators
  • English learner educators
  • Special education teachers
  • Community members

To participate, interested individuals can submit their name and experience to the MCA and Alternate MCA Review Committee Database. The database is then used to send invitations for each opportunity directly to eligible educators and community members based on the need for each committee or meeting.

Invitations for the coming committee cycle will begin going out in winter for Summer 2024.

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Curriculum Director Meetings 2023–24

MDE will be hosting two virtual Curriculum Director sessions on Oct. 10 that will focus on legislative changes specific to content areas. New and experienced Curriculum Directors are welcome to attend either session as the same information will be provided at each one. New this year, we are requesting Curriculum Directors to register for the 2023–24 virtual sessions. Additional details for joining are provided once participants register through the links below:

Curriculum Director sessions are an excellent opportunity to connect with MDE content specialists to discuss the tools available to districts for standards implementation. Curriculum Director virtual sessions are not recorded and CEUs will not be provided as these sessions are an additional support rather than a training event.

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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 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. Bring your favorite beverage, along with your questions and any feedback you have, to share at this informal time focused around alternate assessment.

Join us for the first one of the year on Oct. 10, from 4 to 5 p.m., via Zoom: 2023–24 Alternate Assessment Coffee Break Series. Please register for the coffee break. This month we will discuss the MTAS eligibility guidelines for choosing assessments for students and planning for assessments during IEP meetings. The topic for our Coffee Break on Nov. 14 will be family engagement with alternate assessments.

We will meet the second Tuesday of each month during the school year. You need only to register once to join any of the monthly coffee breaks that work for you. The Coffee Break dates for this year are Oct. 10, Nov. 14, Dec. 12, Jan. 9, Feb. 13, March 12, April 9, and May 14 at 4 p.m. For more information, contact

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2024 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching Nominations Open

Nominate an outstanding K–6 educator for the 2024 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). This year, PAEMST celebrates 40 years of recognizing excellent educators nationwide. Please visit the PAEMST website for more information.

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Arts Standards Series

Curriculum leaders in the arts are invited to register for a virtual series dedicated to implementing the arts standards. If you missed the first session in September, you can view this Video: Introduction to Arts Standards. For more information and to register, visit the MDE Arts Page.

  • Analyzing Benchmarks and Learning Progressions in the Arts, Oct. 26, from 9 to 10:30 a.m.
  • Standards-based Assessments in the Arts, Nov. 15, from 9 to 10:30 a.m.
  • Supporting Curriculum Development in the Arts, Dec. 6, from 9 to 10:30 a.m.

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Scholars of Distinction Award Program

MDE created the Scholars of Distinction program to recognize the academic and intellectual accomplishments of talented students that happen both in school and out of school. This program celebrates the collaboration among students and educators, as well as family and community members, who promote ongoing inquiry and the quest for new learning and new understanding of the world around us. Scholars of Distinction is a capstone project in an academic area of interest, recognized by your high school and MDE. This project creates an opportunity for students in grade 11 or 12 to develop and refine skills that are increasingly required in today’s world:

  • Think independently and critically at complex levels.
  • Utilize creative problem solving. 
  • Integrate learning across disciplines or a variety of sources.
  • Synthesize/integrate a variety of points of view. 
  • Engage in discussion of real-world problems, both locally and globally.

To earn this recognition, students must complete required work in the Minnesota Academic Standards, demonstrate mastery of complex subject matter and apply their knowledge to challenging projects. Students eligible for an award may be enrolled in grades 11–12 at a public or private school, homeschooled in grades 11–12 or enrolled in a Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program. Students who wish to apply for a Scholars of Distinction Award in Computer Science, Cultural Studies, Environmental Leadership, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies or STEM must complete the Intent to Submit Scholars of Distinction Online Application Oct. 1 through Nov. 1. Projects are due Feb. 1.

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Important Ideas and Research

Supporting Indigenous Students in STEM and Science Education

Abstract: During the past decade, there has been an increase in educational programs with the primary goal of improving Science and STEM outcomes for Indigenous students. Through reviewing two dozen studies geared towards grades K–12, researchers have identified various strategies/considerations for supporting student outcomes. Intentional scientific inquiry aligned with cultural teachings is the primary foundation for increased positive outcomes.

When Indigenous students do not see themselves, their culture, and their traditions within their school environment, whether it be within daily content instruction or in recognizing the value of Indigenous teachings and knowledge, they feel unvalued and disconnected from their own culture. Different instructional strategies have demonstrative success in supporting increased science and STEM outcomes for Indigenous students.

Identified instructional strategies within program research samples:

  • Using creative narratives in science instruction
  • Collaborating with Indigenous knowledge holders in developing lesson/unit plans
  • Indigenous knowledge holders guiding culturally related activities
  • Engaging students in exploring topics in local ecosystems
  • Placing specific emphasis on indigenous ways of knowing

In reviewing all programs within the research cohort, an analysis was completed to identify which measures or interventions were implemented to support Indigenous students in K–12 science and STEM education. Eight categories were identified in the table below (Jin, 2021).

Features of Program Practice

Program Feature Category


Scientific inquiry

Engaging students in scientific inquiry using (Western) science methods for doing scientific investigation, such as formulating hypotheses and collecting data by designing and doing experiments

Design and making

Engaging students in hands-on design and making, such as building dioramas, models, and devices

Cultural relevance

Emphasizing Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous ways of knowing, connections to local communities, etc.

Technology involvement

Providing students with opportunities to interact with digital technologies, such as using software for computer simulation, using GIS for geo-information collection and analysis, using online platforms for communication

Dialogical/communicative focus

Engaging students in collaborative group work with the dialogical or communicative focus, providing students with opportunities to communicate and discuss with peers

Multimodal practice

Either the instruction was communicated/ implemented multimodally or by engaging students in multimodal practice

Literacy practice

Focus on literacy practice, such as (scientific) vocabulary building, narrative writing, creative writing, and students’ storytelling


Others not included in the above categories

Many of the studies included in this review aimed to support Indigenous students’ learning and future careers in science and broader STEM areas. With implementation of noted instructional practices, Indigenous students demonstrated increased proficiency in conceptual learning in science (Jin, 2021). By improving Indigenous students’ confidence and self-efficacy of learning science and using science in their daily lives, this led to the construction of Indigenous students identities as “science learners,” “science users,” and “emerging scientists” and expanded their agency in science and STEM (Dublin, 2014).

As we continue to review our own instructional practices, by engaging in these reflective practices with our Indigenous communities, with the embedding of indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing in our science and STEM teaching, we will support equitable and appropriate education for our Indigenous students, and all students.

Dublin, R.; Sigman, M.; Anderson, A.; Barnhardt, R.; Topkok, S.A. COSEE-AK ocean science fairs: A science fair model that grounds student projects in both Western science and traditional native knowledge. J. Geosci. Educ. 2014, 62, 166–176. [CrossRef]

Jin, Q. Supporting Indigenous Students in Science and STEM Education: A Systemic Review. Education Sciences 2021, 11, 555, 1-15. []

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Division of Academic Standards, Instruction and Assessment

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