Academic Standards, Instruction and Assessment Newsletter: April 2024

MDE logo, Academic Standards Instruction and Assessment newsletter header

A semiannual update from Academic Standards, Instruction and Assessment

Vol. 2, No. 2: April 15, 2024

Director’s Notes

Jennifer Dugan wearing a T shirt with a QR code link to the MCA/Alternate MCA Review Committee signup

By Jennifer Dugan

Director of Academic Standards, Instruction and Assessment

Spring is signaled by different things to different people. In our division, one of the sure indicators of spring is preparing for review committees. This spring brings an exciting distinction. 

Now is the prime time for Minnesota’s teachers to get involved in shaping the next generation of Minnesota’s assessments. Our division has been intentionally and actively reaching out to organizations across the state to encourage more Minnesota teachers and citizens to be involved.

In the collection of articles below, you’ll notice a common theme: MDE needs your help spreading the word about all the changes while encouraging others to get involved.

In order for the next generation of MCA assessments to truly reflect the academic goals of Minnesota, our division relies on the contributions of educators and community members. That’s why it is so important for folks to register to join an MCA/Alternate MCA Review Committee. Most of the MCA/Alternate MCA committees for which we’re seeking are one-time commitments. For those meetings that occur during the school year, we do reimburse substitutes in addition to the travel expenses.

We have published a flyer seeking Educator Review Committee members. Please consider downloading it and hanging it in your teacher lounge or break room so that your colleagues will see it, think about it, and hopefully sign up.

As curriculum directors and administrators, you know who the thought leaders are in your districts. Those are the folks we are looking for. Encourage them to get involved and stay updated with the information on our webpages.

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Upcoming Minnesota Department of Education Working Groups

Working groups are instrumental in the work at Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). This summer there are going to be three working groups. Working groups must follow a process of applying, agree to the guiding assumptions, time commitment, and accept becoming a member. The three working groups that will be held beginning Spring/Summer 2024 include:

  • MDE Personal Finance Working Group
  • MDE Ethnic Studies Working Group
  • MDE Education on the Holocaust, Genocide of Indigenous Peoples, and Other Genocides Working Group

The working groups are comprised of the following membership:

  • MDE Personal Finance working group is comprised of social studies, math, business education, family and consumer science, and agriculture, food and natural resources teachers, recent high school graduates, current Minnesota school administrators, and pre-service program faculty. The list of appointed members can be located at 2023 Personal Finance Working Group Member document.
  • MDE Ethnic Studies working group application closed on March 22 and members were selected April 1 comprised of teachers with experience teaching Ethnic Studies to students in kindergarten to grade 8, parents or guardians of public kindergarten through grade 12 students, Ethnic studies high school teachers, school board members or school administrators (including curriculum directors or directors of teaching and learning), Minnesota-based college-level faculty experts in ethnic studies, public school students in grades 11 and 12 in either the 2023–24 or 2024–25 school year, and community members with a demonstrated commitment to ethnic studies or education about Minnesota’s racial, ethnic, religious, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or cultural diversity.
  • MDE Holocaust, Genocide of Indigenous Peoples, and Other Genocides working group application closed on March 22 and members were selected on April 1 comprised of a middle and high school social studies and English language arts teachers, pre-service teacher education program faculty with expertise in relevant topics, university faculty with related academic expertise, and representatives of Minnesota-based nonprofit organizations, community groups, and sovereign nations whose missions include educating about and honoring the victims and survivors of displacement, genocide, and mass violence.

Below are the guiding assumptions for the working group members:

While the working group meetings are currently planned to be in-person, meeting format and/or dates below are subject to change:

Personal Finance:

  • June 11–12
  • Aug. 20–21
  • Oct. 29

Ethnic Studies:

  • April 15
  • April 16
  • May 14
  • June 25
  • Aug. 27
  • Sept. 10
  • Sept. 24

Education on the Holocaust, Genocide of Indigenous Peoples, and Other Genocides Working Group:

  • April 30
  • Sept. 17
  • Nov. 19
  • Jan. 14, 2025
  • March 4, 2025
  • May 6, 2025
  • Aug. 19, 2025

Starting in September, public comment will begin for some of the working groups. Additional information can be found on the Academic Standards website, in the Educator Edition, and Superintendent mailer.

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Close of Minnesota Department of Education Computer Science Education Working Group

The Computer Science Education Working Group will conclude their initial working group sessions on March 12. While this concludes the working group, the initial statewide guidance finalized plan was presented to the Minnesota Legislature on March 22. Based on the outcome of the bill and session, next steps will be determined. If you are interested in reading the bill language regarding Computer Science, it is located at 2023 Minnesota Laws, chapter 55, article 2, section 61, subdivision 3 (9g). If you would like additional information regarding updates on Computer Science through the legislative session, please check the Computer Science website.

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Next Generation of Statewide Assessments

The primary purpose of the statewide assessments administered in Minnesota is to measure student learning of the applicable standards: progress towards proficiency as described by the WIDA English Language Development Standards (for English language proficiency accountability assessments) and learning of the grade-level Minnesota Academic Standards (for the standards-based accountability assessments). As standards are revised, a new series of assessments must be developed to align with the revised standards. This school year is the start of a transition period to new assessments as outlined by the figure below.

Upcoming Assessments graphic timeline

The following sections highlight some of work taking place in preparation for the new series of assessments. In addition, the WIDA Alternate ACCESS Updates page of the WIDA website includes information about the new WIDA Alternate ACCESS and the Minnesota Tests page of the MDE website has a resource about upcoming changes for the MCA-IV and Alternate MCA.

WIDA Update

The 2023–24 school year is the first operational administration of the updated WIDA Alternate ACCESS, which is a completely redesigned assessment of language proficiency for English learners with the most significant cognitive disabilities. The test features all new items, new WIDA Alternate Proficiency Level Descriptors, and an Individual Characteristics questionnaire. As with any new assessment, the reporting of test results from the WIDA Alternate ACCESS will be delayed until after standard setting can be completed. Scheduled for the summer of 2024, standard setting is the process by which educators from across the WIDA consortium will collaborate to establish cut scores that accurately reflect the expectations for each proficiency level. Additionally, WIDA is in the process of developing a WIDA Alternate Screener that will help educators appropriately identify students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who are eligible for services in a language instruction education program. More information and updates can be found on the WIDA Alternate ACCESS Updates page of the WIDA website.

MCA and Alternate MCA Review Committees

As we build a new series of assessments in science, reading, and math, there is an increased need for educators and community members to be part of committees reviewing test material as it is developed each year as well as one-time meetings such as standard setting and alignment committees. These committees and conversations provide critical feedback to MDE, ensuring the assessments align to the academic standards, use grade-level appropriate language and represent all students. In addition, educators frequently tell us that participation in these committees helps them build a stronger understanding of implementing standards in their classrooms and they bring back valuable discussions with peers from across the state to their district teams. Please encourage and support educators and community members in your district to register to participate in these important review committees.


As new assessments are developed, it is an opportunity to review and revise what universal supports and accommodations are provided, and MDE has been collaborating with a variety of local and national advisory groups to evaluate possible changes as well as evaluating available student-level data and research.

Beginning this year, two new resources related to universal supports and accommodations are posted under the expandable header of the same name on the District Resources webpage. The new framework presented in these resources will continue to be updated to reflect changing assessments and available options for universal supports and accommodations. This spring and summer, MDE will begin communicating information about universal supports and accommodation changes planned for the first administration of the Science MCA-IV and Science Alternate MCA-IV so that decision-makers, including IEP, 504, and EL teams, educators, assessment coordinators, students, and families can begin to review options for next year.

Science Assessment in Spring 2025

Science MCA-IV

Full implementation of the 2019 Minnesota Science Standards begins in the 2024–25 academic school year. The 2019 standards are a major shift in the teaching and learning of science, exploring phenomena using practices of science, cross cutting concepts, and core ideas referred to as the three dimensions of science. The new shift in the standards will require changes in the way these standards are assessed.

The Science MCA-IV will be a phenomena-based assessment using various item types including multiple choice, technology enhanced, and open-ended constructed response to assess Minnesota’s multidimensional benchmarks. Examples of individual released questions for Science MCA-IV are available in the Minnesota Questions Tool (MQT). For more information about the structure of the Science MCA-IV, please refer to the Science MCA-IV Test Specifications. Examples of individual released questions are available for Science MCA in the Minnesota Questions Tool (MQT).

Alternate MCA

The Alternate MCA (Alt MCA) is the redesigned alternate assessment that will replace the Minnesota Test of Academic Skills (MTAS) as the new series of assessments roll out in science, reading, and math. Beginning in spring 2025, the Alt MCA Science assessment will be fully operational, followed by reading in 2026, and math anticipated in 2028. The assessment will be available in three different formats: online, paper, or a hybrid format where a student may use both online and paper materials during the administration. To see an example of the redesigned alternate assessment, see the Alternate MCA Released Questions, which provide information and sample tasks of the new assessment format. Examples of individual released questions of the Science Alt MCA are also available in the Minnesota Questions Tool (MQT).

As Minnesota shifts to this new assessment, other changes occur alongside this transition. MDE is currently updating the eligibility criteria used to identify students who have significant cognitive disabilities and should take the alternate assessment. The redesigned assessment will also have the option for Test Administrators to employ an early stopping rule when students are consistently not responding to testing directions or prompts. The Learner Characteristics Inventory (LCI) will also be revised based on current needs and usability.

Reporting Redesign

MDE is beginning to gather feedback with specific audiences across the education system (district, school, classroom, community, etc.) about how they access and use assessment results provided by MDE and vendor systems. The goal of the feedback process is to generate a clear purpose, use, audience, and improved organization of information in each report published based on user feedback. By doing this, we hope to bring more coherence and purpose to our reports and resources.

Feedback gathering will occur in three phases: initial broad feedback from March–May, targeted element feedback from June-August, and report-specific feedback from September 2024–June 2025. The results of this report redesign will be seen for the first time during the reporting of the Science MCA-IV and Alternate MCA in fall 2025.

It is important that MDE gets as much feedback as possible about how you have been using assessment results and how you would like to use the results from the assessments aligned to new standards. A survey will be published in April, and we will be asking you to share the survey with staff and complete the survey to give us your feedback. We know your time is valuable and we appreciate you taking the time to share your feedback.

Achievement Level Descriptors for the Next Generation of Assessments

Achievement Level Descriptors (ALDs) use the knowledge and skills defined in the English Language Arts, Mathematics and Science K–12 Academic standards and benchmarks to describe grade-level student performance observed on the statewide assessments across four achievement levels. They can also be used alongside the academic standards to help educators make informed decisions on curriculum and the scope and sequence of lessons.

After the first operational administration for each assessment, a Standard Setting committee of educators and community members will use the MCA-IV and Alt MCA ALDs to define levels of achievement and cut scores between levels on the new assessment. To prepare for this, in collaboration with educators, MDE has developed draft ALDs in science, which will go out for public review starting in June 2024. Draft ALDs in reading will follow in October 2024. Initial draft ALDs in mathematics are being developed by a group of educators in summer 2024.

As a part of this important process of drafting ALDs and determining proficiency within the Standard Setting process over the next few years, please encourage educators to register to participate in these important review committees and to receive updates when the ALDs are available for public review.

Academic Standards, Instruction and Assessment

Minnesota Department of Education

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