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Minnesota Schools Labeled by the Feds
Starting today, more than 400 Minnesota elementary schools will hear for the first time that they will likely be tagged as needing improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to a computer analysis by the state education department.

While educators have for months predicted that many schools will make the list, state officials will release details of a computer simulation showing that 426 of Minnesota's 1,007 elementary schools need to improve.

Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke said the information will be used during training sessions this summer for school district personnel on implementing the law.

State officials stressed that the data are only preliminary -- the first real list based on the most recent test results will be released July 31. But this analysis will help schools get a jump on improving, Yecke said.

And it may startle those who think Minnesota schools are doing just fine -- especially when they see wide and pervasive achievement gaps between white students and minority and poor students.

The findings, based on 2001-02 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment results for third-and fifth-grade reading and math tests show:

Ninety percent of elementary schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul need improvement, based on not meeting adequate yearly progress required by No Child Left Behind.

Urban schools are not alone. Forty-seven percent of suburban elementary schools and 47 percent of large rural-area schools also are expected to fall short. Just 10 percent of small rural schools need improvement.

Most Minnesota schools need to improve the progress of special-education, poor and minority students. Consider: 55 percent of schools' special-education student scores need improvement, 64 percent of schools' low-income students' scores need improvement and more than 25 percent of schools need improvement based on the scores of black students. Fewer than 2 percent of the schools were identified as needing improvement based on white students' scores alone.

Fifty-seven Minnesota schools could be required to use money to provide supplemental services to students if they fail to make adequate yearly progress this year. The act requires schools that receive federal Title I money -- based on the number of poor children in the school -- to set aside an amount equal to 20 percent of that for services such as after-school tutoring if they fail to make adequate yearly progress for three years.

Minnesota is developing annual tests for students in third through eighth grade to meet No Child Left Behind requirements. Those tests are expected to be in place in 2005, Yecke said. For now, the state is using the existing state assessments.

A school or school district can "not make adequate yearly progress" in any one of 18 different categories or "cells," state education officials said. Students are tested in math and reading and reported in nine categories: all students; American Indian/Alaskan Native; Asian/Pacific Islander; Hispanic; black; white; limited English proficient; special education, and free/reduced price meals.

Nearly half the schools identified as needing improvement fell short in just one or two categories. That has led some Minnesota educators to question the validity of a law that would label a school as a failure even if the majority of its students are succeeding. But Yecke lauded the act's potential to identify real and specific problems -- not just on average, but for specific groups of students.

To make the act work for Minnesota, she said, the state Department of Children, Families and Learning will be taking three steps:

First, on June 9, department officials will begin holding meetings to help teachers and administrators become familiar with new state academic standards in language arts and math -- as well as in-depth workshops on how the act will work here.

Second, state officials will implement online training to assist schools in identifying weaknesses and putting together a team to manage an improvement plan.

Third, Yecke said, the department will be more aggressive in going after federal grants to fund teacher training and to encourage school innovation.

The state also is moving ahead to implement the federal law.

New academic standards in math and language arts have just become state law. New standards in science and social studies are expected to be developed before the end of the year. The new federal tests will closely align with those standards, Yecke said. And officials will be able to track the year-to-year performance of all students -- even if they change schools or districts -- with the new tests.

Knowing where they fall short with specific groups of students will help educators finally begin to close the achievement gap, Yecke said.

Earlier Thursday, while addressing the wide gap in test scores and graduation rates between white students and other groups, Yecke stressed that educators shouldn't be afraid of higher expectations and tougher requirements. They should embrace them. Following these steps will lead to success, she said.

Yecke referred to a recent newspaper report when she said: "I'm not the first education commissioner in Minnesota to talk about the achievement gap, but I sure would like to be the first one to say we are well on our way to ending it."

Here's a second story.

Test gap could put schools on list
Pioneer Press
May 23, 2003

You may love your local elementary school, but if you live in St. Paul, Minneapolis or the suburbs, you may soon see it labeled as a school that's not making the grade.

State education officials looked at last year's test results for third- and fifth-graders and concluded that 426 Minnesota elementaries weren't making the needed gains with all students required under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The real list will come out this summer after officials release the 2003 test results. If the education department's test-run is any guide, nearly every elementary in Minneapolis and St. Paul and nearly half those in the suburbs will be identified as needing improvement. Some schools that receive federal funding targeted for low-income students may have to spend part of the money on private tutors.

The federal law requires that schools succeed with kids from all income levels and racial groups. The state's analysis showed nearly two-thirds of the elementaries would make the needs-improvement list because of the performance of their low-income children, who, in many schools, are students of color.

Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke on Thursday said far too many Minnesotans don't recognize that achievement gap, even when it's in their own communities.

"The achievement of black students in Minnesota is nearly three years behind that of white students in fourth-grade math," Yecke said, citing federal data during a speech at the W.I.S.E. Charter School in Minneapolis. Minnesota has among the worst gap between whites and students of color in the nation in eighth-grade reading, she added.

She called it shameful that nearly all the students taking exams for college credit in the rigorous Advanced Placement programs were white.

The state's new academic standards will help set high goals for all students, and the state testing data will help find ways to make schools better, she said. She called on parents and community groups to be part of the effort.

The needs-improvement list and its potential for stigma has been on the minds of Twin Cities educators for months. With the list expected out this summer some worry they'll be unfairly painted as failing if they fall short in only one or two of some 18 categories set out in the law.

"Will the perception be that that's not a quality school because they're on that list, even if 99 percent of the students at the school might be doing great" and one struggling group is making progress, asked Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, which includes 27 urban and suburban districts. People may question the process "and ask if there's any real meaning to this when they're identifying this number of schools."

Yecke said her department would publish "school performance report cards" this summer that will include some kind of school rating. Schools that didn't make sufficient progress this year and last will have to spend some of their federal dollars on outside tutors or other services if parents ask for them, she added.

She also expected testing for all students in grades three through eight to be in place by 2005 and said she would seek "flexibility" from federal authorities for schools struggling to bring special education students up to the required standards.

The law won't withhold federal money for struggling schools but it could open the door to a school's staff or administration being replaced wholesale a process known as reconstitution.

But that would take at least six years of sub-par performance, she added, "and I think we can all agree that six years exceeds any reasonable expectations."


To read Yecke's speech and get other information on the new federal law, go to the Department of Education Web site at

— James Walsh
426 Minnesota schools on need improvement 'list'
Star Tribune
May 23, 2003


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