Minnesota schools falling behind on No Child Left Behind standardsby Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio
More than one in every three Minnesota schools failed to make sufficient gains last year under the federal No Child Left Behind education law. New data released by the Minnesota Department of Education shows 729 schools didn't make "adequate yearly progress," an increase of nearly 250 schools from the year before.
St. Paul, Minn. — Thirty-eight percent of the state's nearly 2,000 schools failed to meet student performance goals last year. That's the highest number since No Child Left Behind was signed into law by President Bush in 2002.
Under the law, schools make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, by meeting benchmarks for the number of students considered proficient on standardized math and reading tests.
Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said she's not surprised that the number of schools not making AYP increased this year.
"Am I satisfied? I'm not satisfied," Seagren said. "I would hope that it would go down over time, but it was not unexpected that we would have an increase."
Seagren said one reason for the increase is that more schools are required to test their special education students and English language learners -- two groups of students who tend to struggle more on the standardized tests.
Up until this year, schools had to have at least 40 students in each group to test them, but that threshold has been lowered to 20 students.
And if a school's students fall short in just one category -- whether that's students with disabilities or Hispanic students or low-income students -- then the school doesn't make adequate yearly progress. Seagren said that's the reason nearly 400 Minnesota schools ended up on the list.
"The majority of the schools didn't make AYP in one subgroup, and they're not even in sanctions that are required under No Child Left Behind," said Seagren. "They've just not made AYP in one subgroup the first year."
If those schools don't make AYP a second year, then consequences kick in. At first, schools must allow students to transfer, and after six years, they're restructured.
That happened to two Minneapolis elementary schools that haven't made AYP since No Child Left Behind went into effect. Lucy Laney and Nellie Stone Johnson schools in north Minneapolis have new principals, and largely new staff.
"They will have an opportunity to start over because they have new leadership," said Bernadeia Johnson, chief academic officer for the Minneapolis school district. "Seventy-five percent of their staff is new, as well as over 50 percent of the student population."
Johnson said the district has made a number of changes to boost student performance at not only these two schools, but throughout the district.
Every elementary school now offers full-day kindergarten and early childhood programs. The district lowered class sizes on the north side, added family liaisons and added world languages in middle school.
The Minneapolis district has its work cut out for it, since 66 of its schools didn't make adequate yearly progress last year. That's nearly 80 percent of the district's schools, including every single high school. Johnson said the district takes the AYP list seriously.
"We know that we need to start really working more strategically, and that we can't make excuses," said Johnson. "We have to continue to find ways to make sure that we're meeting the needs of our diverse student population."
Johnson said the good news in the otherwise bleak AYP results for Minneapolis is that the district's high school graduation rates increased for every group of students.
Minneapolis isn't the only district with a large number of schools that didn't make sufficient gains. In suburban Burnsville, six out of 10 elementary schools are on the list, and all four secondary schools.
Superintendent Ben Kanninen said some of those school didn't make AYP because of glitches with computer testing, and in the case of Eagle Ridge Junior High School, an entire box of tests wasn't included in the school's results.
"It really isn't about proficiency at all, it's about, in this case, a participation level," said Kanninen. "And we know that we had sufficient numbers of students taking the test. The issue is, they didn't get scored."
The state Education Department plans to review the box of tests that was discovered, which may or may not remove Eagle Ridge from the list of schools not making AYP.
One bright spot in the AYP results is that 121 Minnesota schools who didn't make their performance goals last year did achieve them this year.
One school that is finally off the list of schools not making AYP is Battle Creek Middle School in St. Paul.
"We are ecstatic. It's a great accomplishment for our school," said principal Jocelyn Sims.
Sims said Battle Creek hired a consultant to help the school improve test scores for the special education students who make up one-fifth of the school population. Battle Creek also focused on training for every teacher, and added reading and math classes for students who were struggling.
Sims said she hopes other schools with a diverse student body and a high number of children in poverty can learn from Battle Creek's success.
In St. Paul, 53 schools didn't make adequate yearly progress, about two-thirds of the district's schools.
State education officials say they'll work with those and other schools across the state, to try to turn around the growing number of schools that could face federal penalties in the future.
- Morning Edition, 08/31/2007, 7:20 a.m.