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Last reviewed June 2018

Minnesota Issues Resource Guides
Academic Standards

This guide is compiled by staff at the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library on a topic of interest to state legislators. It introduces the topic and points to sources for further research. It is not intended to be exhaustive.

Legislative History  Books and Reports  Articles  Additional Library Resources  Groups

Historically, Minnesota high schools awarded diplomas based on Carnegie units ("seat time requirements") or course credits completed by students. Critics maintained that this system provided no statewide standards on subject content and no statewide assessment of what students had learned. In the early 1990's, the Legislature, the Minnesota State Board of Education (abolished in 1998), and the Minnesota Department of Children, Families & Learning (now the Department of Education), worked together to develop a more rigorous K-12 education system that standardized curriculum and testing in the state. The resulting graduation rule had two distinct components: Basic Skills Tests and the Profile of Learning.

The Profile of Learning standards contained 10 learning areas, plus a requirement for vocational education. Detailed content standards were developed for each learning area. Elementary and middle school students had to master preparatory content standards, while high school students had to complete 24 of 48 high school content standards. Basic Skills Tests in reading, writing, and math were developed to ensure that students acquired the basic level of knowledge needed to function in a literate society. Under this new system, students had to meet two general requirements to graduate: pass the Basic Skills Tests and successfully complete a minimum number of Profile of Learning standards.

The development and implementation of the Profile of Learning generated much debate. Concerns with the content of the standards and with how the standards were taught led to a compromise which gave local school boards the authority to decide which content standards students had to complete and how many standards were required for graduation. Districts were also able to select the assessment tools used to measure student performance (Laws of Minnesota 2000, chapter 500).

Continuing dissatisfaction with the Profile of Learning led to its repeal in 2003. It was replaced with the Minnesota Academic Standards (Laws of Minnesota 2003, chapter 129). The new law defined five core academic content standards areas: language arts, math, science, social studies, and arts. Standards for mathematics, language arts, and arts were adopted in the 2003 law. The law allowed school districts to use either the statewide arts standards or locally-developed arts standards. The 2004 Legislature adopted science and social studies standards (Laws of Minnesota 2004, chapter 294, article 6). Revisions to the mathematics standards were completed in 2007, arts standards were revised in 2008, science standards in 2009, and language arts standards in 2010 (view current Academic Standards).

Each of the academic standards was supplemented by grade-level benchmarks. These benchmarks specified the academic knowledge and skills that students had to achieve to complete a state standard. In addition to the core academic standards areas, there were several elective subject areas. School districts were required to create local elective standards and had to offer elective courses covering health and physical education and world languages.

Changes were also made in the state's assessment system. The Basic Skills Tests (BST) were replaced by the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA). The MCAs were developed to help schools and districts measure student progress in mastering the state's new reading, writing, and mathematics standards. The MCAs would first be administered in third grade and in selected years through grade 8. Students' performance on these tests would be one of the factors used to determine grade promotion or retention. As a graduation exam, the MCA writing test would be administered in grade nine, the MCA reading test in grade ten, and the MCA math test in grade 11. All public schools and charter schools were required to administer the tests. (For additional information see, Minnesota Assessment System History).

The legislation created a transition process for schools and students to move from the Profile of Learning to the Minnesota Academic Standards. School districts could switch to the new graduation system at any time but had to continue to offer the old graduation standards to students who started ninth grade under those standards. Students who entered grade eight in the 2004/2005 school year (or earlier) were required to pass the Basic Skills Tests; starting with the class of 2010 (students who entered grade eight in the 2005/2006 school year) students were required to pass the MCA (Laws of Minnesota 2005, First Special Session, chapter 5, article 2).

In 2007, the Minnesota Legislature passed a law creating the Graduation Required Assessment for Diploma (GRAD) (Laws of Minnesota 2007, chapter 146, article 2). The law required that in order to graduate from high school, a public-school student had to pass GRAD tests in writing, reading, and math. Those in the classes of 2010-2014 who did not pass the math test could graduate if they met all other requirements. In addition, students had to successfully complete a required number of course credits and meet any local graduation requirements. Minnesota's High School Graduation Requirements, by the Minnesota House Research Office, summarizes the 2007 law.

A 2009 law modified the graduation requirements related to the mathematics test, providing alternate assessment options for students who did not pass the mathematics GRAD test (Laws of Minnesota 2009, chapter 96, article 2).

In 2013, the Legislature altered the testing laws in several ways. Testing requirements for high school graduation were changed by adding alternative assessment options for students who do not pass the GRAD tests. The law also required the development of new assessments that are aligned with the academic standards but that also include career and college readiness benchmarks (Laws of Minnesota 2013, chapter 116, article 2). Since 2013 there have been a few tweaks to the state program but no major revisions. A 2015 first special session law included a handful of changes (Laws of Minnesota 2015 First Special Session, chapter 3 article 3). 

There were several legislative changes in 2016 including requirements for standards related to civics education and physical Education. Dates for reviews of the academic standards were updated. The Minnesota House Research brief, Minnesota's Statewide Assessments, provides a summary of changes made to the state's testing laws from 2015-2016. Several miscellaneous changes were made by the recently-adjourned 2017/2018 Minnesota Legislature. See the following section for links to the laws.

Legislative History

Current Minnesota Statutes and Administrative Rules

Note: There may be additional statutes and rules that are not included here.

Session Laws

Significant Books and Reports

Reports published after 2002:

Assessment Advisory Committee Report, 2008. St. Paul: Minnesota Department Education. (LB3052.M6 A87) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2003, chapter 129, article 1, section 11)

Bybee, Rodger. Minnesota Academic Standards in Science (Draft of Revision): An External Review for the Minnesota Department of Education. Roseville: Minnesota Department of Education, 2008. (LB3052.M6 B93 2008)

Champagne, Audrey B. Minnesota Standards Review. Roseville: Minnesota Department of Education, 2008. (LB3052.M6 C43 2008)

Documents Relating to the Drafting Process of the Minnesota Academic Standards for Science, History, and Social Studies, 2004. (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2003, chapter 129, article 1, section 3)

Drafting Documents for the Minnesota Academic Standards for History and Social Studies. 2004. (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2003, chapter 129, article 1, section 3.)

Drafting Documents for the Minnesota Academic Standards for Science (K-12). 2003-2004. (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2003, chapter 129, article 1, section 3)

Larson, Lisa. World Language Proficiency for High School Students. St. Paul: Minnesota House of Representatives, Research Department, 2015.

Lombard, Thomas J. An Alignment Study of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment-II With State Standards in Mathematics for Grades 3-8 and 11. Roseville: Minnesota Dept. of Education, 2006. (LB3052.M6 L66 2006)

Lombard, Thomas J. An Alignment Study of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment-II With State Standards in Reading and Literature for Grades 3-8 and 10. Roseville: Minnesota Dept. of Education, 2006. (LB3052.M6 L662 2006)

Minnesota Academic Standards: Arts K-12 (2003). Roseville: Minnesota Dept. of Education, 2003. (LB1629.M6 M574 2003) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2003, chapter 129, article 1, section 3)

Minnesota Academic Standards: Arts K-12 (2008). Roseville: Minnesota Dept. of Education, 2009. (LB1629.M6 M574 2009) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2003, chapter 129, article 1, section 3)

Minnesota Academic Standards--Kindergarten (2015). Roseville: Minnesota Dept. of Education, 2015. (LB1629.M6 M578 2015).

Minnesota Academic Standards: Language Arts K-12. Roseville: Minnesota Dept. of Education, 2003. (LB1629.M6 M572 2003) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2003, chapter 129, article 1, section 3)

Minnesota Academic Standards: Mathematics K-12 (2003). Roseville: Minnesota Dept. of Education, 2003. (LB1629.M6 M573 2003) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2003, chapter 129, article 1, section 3)

Minnesota Academic Standards: Mathematics K-12 (2007). Roseville: Minnesota Dept. of Education, 2007. (LB1629.M6 M573 2007) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2003, chapter 129, article 1, section 3)

Minnesota Academic Standards: Science K-12 (2003). Roseville: Minnesota Dept. of Education, 2003. (LB1629.M6 M575 2003) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2003, chapter 129, article 1, section 3)

Minnesota Academic Standards: Science K-12 (2009). Roseville: Minnesota Dept. of Education, 2009. (LB1629.M6 M575 2009) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2003, chapter 129, article 1, section 3)

Minnesota Academic Standards in History and Social Studies (2004). Roseville: Minnesota Dept. of Education, 2004. (LB1629.M6 M576 2004) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2003, chapter 129, article 1, section 3)

Minnesota's K-12 Academic Standards and Assessments. St. Paul: Minnesota House of Representatives, Research Department, 2006. (HN79.M6 S56 2006)

Minnesota K-12 Academic Standards in Social Studies (2011). Roseville, MN: Minnesota Dept. of Education, 2012. (LB1629.M6 M577 2012) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2003, chapter 129, article 1, section 3)

Peterson, Kristin A. Computerizing Statewide Educational Assessments in Minnesota: A Report on the Cost and Feasibility of Converting the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments to a Computerized Adaptive Format. Minneapolis, MN: Office of Educational Accountability, College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota, 2005. (LB3052.M6 P48 2005) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2004, chapter 294, article 2, section 33)

Recommendations: Minnesota's High Academic Standards: Report to the Legislature. Roseville, MN: Minnesota Department of Education, 2004. (LB1629.M6 R433 2004) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2003, chapter 129, article 2, section 2)

Welty, Kenneth. [Review of Minnesota Academic Standards in Science]. Roseville: Minnesota Department of Education, 2008. (LB3052.M6 R48 2008)

Reports published prior to 2003:

1998 Report on Graduation Standards. St. Paul: State Board of Education, Minnesota Department of Children, Families & Learning, 1998. (LB1629 .M6 N56 1998) (Required by Minnesota Statutes, section 121.11, subdivision 7c.) (Text of report: Part 1, Part 2)

Avery, Patricia G. et al. The Impact of Minnesota's Profile of Learning on Teaching and Learning in English and Social Studies Classrooms. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, College of Education and Human Development, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, 2002. (LB1629.M6 A83 2002)

Commissioner's Action Plan for Refining the Profile of Learning. St. Paul: Minnesota Department of Children, Families & Learning, 2001. (LB1629.M6 C66 2001)

Final Report: Projected Costs to School Districts in Minnesota and to the State Associated with Implementing the Profile of Learning in 1998-99 and 1999-2000. Denver, CO: Augenblick & Myers, 1997. (LB1629. M6. F56 1997)

The Graduation Standards: January 15, 1997 Annual Report to the Minnesota State Legislature as Required in M.S. 121.11, subdivision 7c. St. Paul: Minnesota State Board of Education: Minnesota Department of Children, Families & Learning, 1997. (LB1629.M6 G73 1997) (Required by Minnesota Statutes, section 121.11, subdivision 7c)

Graduation Standards: Report to the Legislature as Required by M.S. 120B.02. Roseville, MN: Minnesota Department of Children, Families & Learning, 2000. (LB1629.M6 G78 2000) (Required by Minnesota Statutes, section 120B.02)

Graduation Standards Advisory Panel Recommendations: Report to the Governor and CFL Commissioner as Required by Minnesota Laws 1998 Chapter 398 Article 5 Section 9. Roseville, MN: Minnesota Department of Children, Families & Learning,1998. (LB1629.M6 G75 1998) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 1998, chapter 398, article 5, section 9)

Graduation Standards Expenditures, FY1994-FY2001. St. Paul: Minnesota Senate. Office of Senate Counsel and Research, 2000. (LB1629.M6 G734 2000)

Graduation Standards Update. St. Paul: Minnesota Department of Children, Families & Learning, 1996. (LB 3051.G73 1996) (Alternate report title: Progress Report of Graduation Standards Project.) (Includes drafts of standards.) (Text of report: Part 1, Part 2)

Kersten, Katherine A. Minnesota's Profile of Learning: The Radical Mutation of a Good Idea. Minneapolis: Center of the American Experiment, 1999. (LB1629.M6 K47 1999)

Larson, Lisa. Profile of Learning: Legislative Action in 1999 and 2000. St. Paul: Minnesota House of Representatives, Research Department, 2000. (LB1629.M6L372 2000)

Larson, Lisa. Profile of Learning and the State's High School Graduation Rule. St. Paul: Minnesota House of Representatives, Research Department, 1998. (LB1629.M6 L377 1998)

Manno, Bruno V. Outcome-Based Education: Has It Become More Affliction Than Cure? Minneapolis: Center of the American Experiment, 1994. (LC1032 .M36 1994) (Contains a well-documented chronology of the development of Minnesota's "results-oriented" graduation rule, including summaries of the various drafts of the rule.)

Minnesota Graduation Standards Implementation: How it Looks From Where It's Happening. Roseville, MN: Minnesota Department of Children, Families & Learning, 2000. (LB1629.M6 M55 2000)

Recommendations for Continuous Improvement of the Profile of Learning: A Report Presented by the Academic Panel to the Commissioner of the Department of Children, Families & Learning Consistent with Minnesota Session Laws 2000, chapter 500, section 14, subdivision 12. Minnesota: Academic Panel, 2001. (LB1629.M6 R43 2001) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2000, chapter 500, section 14, subdivision 12)

Technical and Vocational Education under Minnesota's Graduation Standards: Report to the Legislature 2001 as required by Senate File 3286 Section 18. Roseville, MN: Minnesota Department of Children, Families, & Learning, 2001. (LB1629.M6 T43 2001) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 2000, chapter 500, section 18)

Significant Articles

(articles in reverse chronological order)

Lonetree, Anthony. "Audit: Standardized School Tests Costly But Inconsistently Useful." Star Tribune, March 7, 2017.

Magan, Christopher. "Bill Would Delay Review of Minnesota Math Benchmarks." St. Paul Pioneer Press, February 12, 2015.

Ragsdale, Jim. "Minnesota Judge Oks New Social Studies Standards." Star Tribune, March 24, 2013.

Hawkins, Beth. "Few Would Likely Mourn an End to Minnesota's High-School Exit Tests." MinnPost, December 6, 2012.

Boldt, Megan. "Minnesota Educators Say No to Joining the Crowd: Minnesota Breaks With Much of the Rest of the Country and Decides Against Adopting National Standards to Measure Student Achievement." St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 1, 2010.

Boldt, Megan. "Minnesota Launches Science Test This Year." St. Paul Pioneer Press, September 3, 2007.

"Minnesota Assessment System History." In: Minnesota Assessments Technical Manual, 2006-2007. Roseville, MN: Minnesota Dept. of Education, 2007. (C08-0002).

Boldt, Megan. "Skills Exams May Get Tougher: State Raises Standards on Annual Assessment." St. Paul Pioneer Press, February 12, 2006.

Boldt, Megan. "Do-Over Near for Minnesota's Student Testing: Grad Requirement Likely to Shift from Basic Skills to Tougher Exam." St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 30, 2005.

"Special Report: Minnesota's Academic Experiment: New Standards." St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 31, 2003.

Draper, Norman. "Few Shed Tears Over Demise of the Profile: Some Express Fears About the New Rules for Schools." Star Tribune, May 25, 2003.

Welsh, John. "Has Profile Produced Dumber Students? It Depends -- But Test Scores Do Show Achievement." St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 15, 2003.

Kersten, Katherine A. "Minnesota's Profile of Learning: A Primer on Why it Still Flunks." American Experiment Quarterly, Winter 2002-2003, p. 37-51.

Ravitch, Diane. "A Century of Failed School Reforms: The Case of Minnesota's Profile of Learning." American Experiment Quarterly, Spring 2001, p. 13-25.

Additional Library Resources

For historical information, check the following codes in the Newspaper Clipping File and the Vertical File:

  • Codes for clippings from 1999 to date and the Vertical File:
    E12.133 Education - Testing and Standards, E12.69 Outcome-based Education
  • Codes for clippings prior to 1999:
    E12.186 Educational Tests and Measurements, E12.69 Outcome-based Education

For additional reports at the Legislative Reference Library, use these Library catalog searches:
Education Standards; Profile of Learning

Groups Involved with this Issue

Minnesota Department of Education