Under ‘No Child Left Behind,’ Number of Failing Schools Skyrockets

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Some schools on federal NCLB failure list are named as top schools by Newsweek.

Though standardized tests show more than 30 percent of Minnesota’s public schools are failing to meet the No Child Left Behind requirements, the results hardly came as a surprise to many state educators.

To them, the federally mandated tests that failed 729 schools in the state are not only arduous, but inconclusive.

The news from the Minnesota Department of Education came as thousands of students prepare to start school this fall. Education experts also say the timing of the data release is not helpful.

Like many states, the performance of Minnesota public schools is measured under No Child Left Behind, or NCLB. The legislation uses a complex measurement known as Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, which focuses on accountability through strings of tests. Schools whose students fail to score high in all of the many categories of the AYP face severe sanctions, ranging from cuts in funding to closing down the entire school.

In Minnesota, 729 schools face sanctions this year, up from 483 last year. Students are tested on reading and math.

Critics say that’s selective and not reflective of students’ progress as a whole.

“The AYP is a one-time snapshot of students and the schools,” said Doug Dooher, president of Education Minnesota, the largest teachers union in the state. “We need a holistic approach to evaluating education.”

The NCLB has a goal of making every child in the United States proficient in reading and math by 2014. But the worsening test results cast serious doubts on achieving that goal.

Still, the state’s education commissioner sounds upbeat.

“While we continue to strive to meet the NCLB by 2014 for 100 percent of students proficient, policy makers in Washington are currently having a much-needed discussion on the re-authorization of NCLB,” said Commissioner Alice Seagren.

Congress is considering whether to re-authorize the NCLB this year. But there’s little dispute among Minnesota congressional delegation that the law needs a major overhaul.

In July, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman introduced a new bill that he says is designed to augment the NCLB. Both Democratic Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison on various occasions have expressed dissatisfaction with NCLB, and say they will likely vote against its re-authorization.

Waiver Option

Dooher said McCollum favors an option that allows states to bail out of the NCLB and chart their own course. McCollum’s office wasn’t available immediately to confirm this.

Some of the schools listed as failing the AYP are on Newsweek’s 2006 top schools in America, according to Dooher.

Education Minnesota and other groups say “growth measurement” is what is needed to evaluate school systems better. That includes measuring the student’s overall performance in a variety of subjects compared to last year’s performance and against the school as a whole.