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Minnesota Bill Asks more U. S. Flexibility on Testing

Minnesota should be granted the flexibility to reach the goals of the No Child Left Behind law the way it sees fit or it will opt out of the federal program, leaving federal public school funding behind as well, under a proposal introduced Thursday by state Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins.

Kelley also wants the Legislature to pass a resolution asking Congress to amend the No Child Left Behind law by adopting the recommendations of the National Conference of State Legislatures' task force, which Kelley served on as a co-chairman.

"I personally believe it's a moral and economic imperative to close the achievement gap," said Kelley, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. "But we also believe that states and local districts know best how to accomplish the goal set out in No Child Left Behind and that the federal government has gone too far in prescribing the methods by which states and schools would achieve those goals."

Unless the federal Education Department agrees to changes in the implementation of the federal education law by July 1, 2006, the state would opt out and forgo up to $250 million a year in federal funding, under Kelley's proposal.

Among the changes he seeks:

Federal approval to track individual student progress year after year. Currently, the federal program measures school performance by looking at this year's third-grade class and comparing it with last year's third grade. But many school leaders would like a system that measures how much individual students gain in a year by looking at how this year's third-graders do next year in the fourth grade.

Federal approval to use multiple measures in addition to standardized test results to determine if a school is making adequate yearly progress.

Allow the state to decide when the test scores of English language learners should be included when holding schools accountable. For example, Kelley said it is "unrealistic and unfair" to evaluate St. Paul public schools on the basis of how Hmong refugee students do on English tests after only 18 months in the country.

"We certainly agree that No Child Left Behind needs some tweaking," said Bill Walsh, Minnesota Department of Education spokesman. "We're working every day to get more flexibility out of the federal government and we're having success."

For instance, he said, the department believes the U.S. Education Department will allow new English language learners more time in the country to learn English before their test scores affect a school's performance.

"Overall, No Child Left Behind, it is the right tool for Minnesota to use to close our achievement gap," Walsh said.

Toni Coleman can be reached at tcoleman@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5442.

— Toni Coleman
Pioneer Press


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