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State, Local Officials Critical of NCLB

Local and state officials say tests linked to No Child Left Behind don't tell a full picture, and the state is requesting a waiver from the program.

St. Louis Park Public Schools didn’t meet No Child Left Behind standards this year, but district and state officials say the evaluation process isn’t a full and accurate measure.

The federal law, which was passed in 2001, requires school districts across the country to administer standardized tests to see if schools are making adequate yearly progress (AYP). This year, nearly half of the state’s 2,255 schools are not hitting the mark, according to data made public on Friday.

State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius has labeled the process as “unfair,” and she is leading the push for Minnesota to apply for a waiver that would release the state from certain sanctions tied to NCLB, including requiring some schools to provide students the option to transfer or receive a tutor.

in St. Louis Park is one such school facing these sanctions because the school failed to hit AYP the last three years and it receives federal Title I funding. But district officials say this doesn’t tell the whole story.

Prachee Mukherjee, who is the district’s director of student assessment, said Aquila went from only three subsets of students hitting the proficiency mark last year to 13 this year—a 300 percent increase. However, one group—English language learners—missed the mark, which was enough for the school to not make AYP.

District spokeswoman Sara Thompson said this is a clear indication that Aquila has shown improvement, despite what NCLB standards say.

“If you’re an Aquila parent, you know that performance improved 300 percent,” she said.

Still, the district will be required to send letters to Aquila parents notifying them that they will have the option of moving their children to another school in the district, or staying at Aquila and getting a tutor.

The timeline on this process isn’t entirely clear, Thompson said, because the tutoring program still needs state approval. The district does hope to have the letters out to parents within the next two weeks. If the state is granted a waiver later this fall, Thompson said the district will likely have to send out a second batch of letters, essentially pulling back transfers and tutors as options to parents.

“That very well could happen,” Thompson said. “Everybody (not hitting AYP) would have to do that.”

Because this is uncharted territory for Aquila and the district as a whole, Thompson said she isn’t sure how many parents will want to pursue a transfer or an outside tutor, assuming Minnesota schools are forced to comply with NCLB sanctions.

“It’s hard to swallow switching schools mid-year. It also can be a challenge (for parents) to do outside tutoring,” she said. “It’s an interesting time in education.”

Thompson said she hopes parents don’t see the AYP results as a signal that local schools are failing, adding that the numbers won’t impact the quality of education in St. Louis Park. She also said St. Louis Park, along with other school districts across the state, are completely supportive of Cassellius and her pursuit of the waiver.

“Anybody in education will agree that it takes more than one test to evaluate how students are doing,” Thompson said.

Cassellius echoed this sentiment.

“Parents and teachers have long expressed concern that NCLB unfairly labels schools based on a single test given once per year, and the percentage of students in the school who pass the test,” she said in a statement released with Friday’s data. “We all know it takes far more than a single test to evaluate how well our students and schools are doing. What matters more is how students are growing and learning, not just over the course of the school year, but over the course of their academic career.”

Emily B October 01, 2011 at 01:17 PM
The entire NCLB law is flawed and in the long run, basically just a way for conservative politicians to justify defunding public education. The the entire law should be scrapped.
Mildred October 01, 2011 at 01:39 PM
As I was told last year by Dr. Bowers, SLP does not have to offer transfers to other schools w/in the district because they did not currently have any school that was making Adequate Yearly Progress. Aquila is making amazing progress in genuine learning not just teaching to the tests. Great job Mr. Pollock and AQ teachers!!
Sue Nash October 01, 2011 at 05:30 PM
I hope parents get behind their teachers and staff. They watch the yearly progress! The entire business of labeling schools as "failing" is in itself a travesty. The law has caused more problems than it's solved. Time for a different change.
Karen Waters October 01, 2011 at 07:32 PM
SLP Schools (students and teachers) are some of the very best in this state. NCLB is about enriching testing companies and dividing the education dollar pie -- it really isn't about kids and progress because if that were really the case the law would have been written much differently. Anyone with an ounce of common sense or who spends any time at all in our schools knows that tremendous learning is going in every classroom! Any wonder that the NCLB rewrites are four years overdue and still not anywhere close to being finished? Why don't we give our kids four years to pass their tests? Bravo to Dr. Casselius and to the entire SLP school system for staying on track with what truly matters: meeting the needs of every single one of our learners every day!

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