Educator Edition: 11-6-23

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An update from Academic Standards, Instruction and Assessment

Vol. 2, No. 3: Nov. 6, 2023

Updates From MDE

Preparing for the MCA and MTAS: Item Sampler Retirement and New Resources

On June 30, the item samplers and student tutorials were permanently removed from PearsonAccess Next. The Student Readiness Tools (SRTs) are the new resource available to prepare students for MCA tests. The SRTs are a place for students to practice with the navigation, tools, and item types they will see on their tests. If students are comfortable with the format and functionality of the test they will be taking, they are better prepared during testing to demonstrate what they know and can do related to the academic standards.

MDE understands that educators need to be familiar with content that is aligned to the Minnesota Academic Standards and to have access to resources that can be used to inform instruction. To meet this need, previously administered MCA and MTAS questions aligned to the academic standards are found in the Minnesota Questions Tool (MQT). The MQT was released in Summer 2022, and it contains hundreds of items to help show how questions are written to reflect the rigor and complexity of the standards.

The retirement of the item samplers and student tutorials may come as a bit of a surprise to some educators, as they have been available for a number of years. However, there are now many more questions available for educators to review in the MQT than there were in the item samplers, and the new SRTs provide more flexibility for how educators can use them with their students and important information that is easier to access and presented more appropriately for students than before.

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) offers a guide that outlines some of the instructional tools and learning resources that are aligned to the English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science Minnesota Academic Standards. Here’s a glimpse at the guide:

Minnesota Questions Tool graphic

Check out the full Standards-Aligned Planning Resource guide on Testing 1, 2, 3.

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Representatives from MDE will be Presenting at the Minnesota Conference on Science Education

The Minnesota Conference on Science Education (MnCOSE) is hosted each year by the Minnesota Science Teachers Association (MnSTA), and features keynote speakers, presentation sessions, exhibit booths, workshops, and local tours for Minnesota science educators. This year, the conference will be held on Nov. 10–11 in Rochester, Minn., and will support planning and implementation of the 2019 Minnesota Science Standards, which are scheduled for full implementation in 2024–25.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Your Prescription for Phenomenal Learning.” It includes the option to participate in a three-hour workshop within the conference, which explores the teaching strategies of the new standards by “practicing the practices.” Participants in these workshops will work with other teachers in their grade band to explore a local phenomenon and make sense of the phenomena using the science and engineering practices. They will learn how to implement these strategies in their instruction and curriculum.

MDE will have an exhibit table at the conference to share information and resources with science educators. MDE will also present phenomena-focused sessions on standards implementation, including the integration of Computer Science and Tribal contributions. There will also be assessment-focused sessions, including changes coming in 2025 to the MCA-IV for science, and sessions on developing 3D classroom assessments.

The Minnesota Conference on Science Education is an annual professional development opportunity for science educators, providing time for learning, networking, and trying out new strategies and resources. Learn more about the conference on the Minnesota Science Teachers Association website.

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Science Education Legislative Updates

The 2023 Minnesota legislative session resulted in historic legislation being passed with regard to education, including changes to state statutes that directly impact K–12 public science education. Visit MDE’s Science Page to find an overview of the changes.

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Computer Science Working Group Members Selected

In accordance with Computer Science Education Advancement Act, the Minnesota Department of Education put out an application for adults and students to join the Computer Science Education Working Group. The working group is charged with developing a state strategic plan for long-term and sustained growth of computer science education in all K–12 school districts and charter schools. The plan will be open for public comment this February and presented to the Minnesota Legislature by March 22.

The CS Education Advancement Act lists organizations that must have a representative on the working group. It also must have one licensed library media specialist; one representative from the business community employing computer scientists or technologists; one high school student enrolled in a school with fewer than 1,000 students and one high school student enrolled in a school with more than 1,000 students; and four computer science teachers from schools of different sizes, including at least one teacher of students in K–5, one teacher of students in grades 6–8, one teacher of students in grades 9–12, and one career and technical education teacher.

The first meeting of the working group was held on Oct. 17. The complete list of working group members, as well as the schedule of meetings, is on MDE’s Computer Science website.

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Upcoming Opportunities

Alternate Assessment Coffee Break Series

What: Meet with Academic Standards Instruction and Assessment Division staff, MTAS test administrators and special education staff

Why: Share your feedback and connect with other special education staff from across the state.

When: Nov. 14, from 4 to 5 p.m., and ongoing second Tuesdays of each month

Where: Via Zoom.

How: Register for the coffee break


Academic Standards Open Office Hour

What: Informal office hour with members of the Academic Standards team.

Why: Share your feedback and connect with the Academic Standards team and staff from across the state.

When: Nov. 16, from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m.

Where: Via Zoom.

How: Register for the Academic Standards Open Office Hour


Assessment Universal Supports and Accommodations Webinar

What: Webinar hosted by the Special Education and Academic Standards, Instruction, and Assessment divisions

Why: Learn how to ensure and coordinate assessment supports and accommodations for Students with disabilities.

When: Dec. 5, 3:30–4:30 p.m.

Where: Via Zoom.

How: Register for Assessment Universal Supports and Accommodations


Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

What: Nominate an outstanding K–6 educator for the 2024 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

When: Nominations close on Jan. 8, and applications close Feb. 6.

More info: PAEMST website

Green Ribbon Schools Award

What: Applications for the 2024 Green Ribbon Schools Award are available.

Why: The U.S. Department of Education award honors schools, districts, and higher education institutions that save energy, create environmentally friendly learning spaces and incorporate sustainability into their curriculum.

When: Application deadline is Jan. 5.

How: Send an intent to apply message by Dec. 1 to MDE Science Specialist Angela Kolonich (

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Important Ideas and Research

Making Decisions for Student Supports and Accommodations on Statewide Assessments

Historically, not all students have participated in statewide assessments. However, this has changed in recent years, and now federal and state policies have progressed to ensure that all students are included in standards-based accountability assessments. Including all students requires consideration of supports and accommodations for statewide assessments.

In 2010, the education initiative known as Race to the Top funded state consortia to develop more rigorous assessments based on the newly released Common Core standards. It also required the assessments to be accessible to more students. As a result, there was a paradigm shift in how states approached accessibility. Instead of providing supports only for students with disabilities and ELs, states began to provide supports all students could utilize (Shyan, 2016).

With the move to increased accessibility, states started to create new categories of supports called “universal supports” that all students could use, or “designated supports” that could be indicated and/or documented for certain students ahead of time (Shyan, 2016). In some cases, new supports were added. In other cases, supports that were previously only offered as accommodations were now offered as supports for all students.

However, what these testing supports are, how they are categorized, and how they function can vary widely from state to state. There is not shared accessibility language regarding the supports and accommodations available to students (Shyan, 2016). Depending on their role and experience, some groups of educators are more familiar with and comfortable administering testing supports than others (Thurlow, 2017). The Minnesota Department of Education is currently taking steps to increase wider understanding of these testing supports and accommodations within the state.

MDE has recently released two new resources related to universal supports and accommodations for statewide assessments:

The 2023–24 MCA Supports and Accommodations infographic to provide an overview for district staff of all the testing supports available to students.

The Guidance for Universal Supports and Accommodations for Minnesota Statewide Assessments 2023–24 to provide detailed information about testing supports and accommodations on Minnesota statewide assessments, including both language proficiency (ACCESS and Alternate ACCESS) and standards-based (MCA and MTAS) accountability assessments.

While the Guidance provides this information in detail, the infographic is a visual overview of all available testing supports, and how they are categorized. IEP teams and families could use this tool to consider the full spectrum of supports available on the statewide assessments. Both documents are posted to the District Resources webpage.


Shyyan, V. V., Thurlow, M. L., Larson, E. D., Christensen, L. L., & Lazarus, S. S. (2016). White paper on common accessibility language for states and assessment vendors. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Data Informed Accessibility—Making Optimal Needs-based Decisions (DIAMOND)

Thurlow, M. L., Larson, E. D., Lazarus, S. S., Shyyan, V. V., & Christensen, L. L. (2017). Educators’ experiences with and attitudes toward accessibility features and accommodations. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Data Informed Accessibility—Making Optimal Needs-based Decisions (DIAMOND).

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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