As predicted, dozens more Minnesota schools -- including nationally respected Edina High School -- failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) this year under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The state Department of Education reports that 933 schools are now on the watch list based on statewide test scores. So why does that list keep growing in a state with one of the best academic achievement records in America?
Minnesota's roster grew longer, in part, because the federal law is flawed. But that's only part of the story. It's also clear that schools and communities with lower-performing kids aren't doing enough to replicate successful models and bring struggling students along.
A signature Bush program, NCLB calls for all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. It also requires states to identify schools that miss the test benchmark. That bar is a moving target that keeps rising. Although state test scores improved slightly in 2008, the gains were not enough keep additional schools off the list.
The numbers are no surprise. A 2004 state legislative auditor's report projected that under current criteria nearly all Minnesota schools would fail to meet federal expectations in the next few years. As Congress considers reauthorizing NCLB, members should remove provisions that label an entire school as failing when a small number of students don't pass a single test. The law should also expand the assessment beyond one test and include more appropriate evaluations of English-learning and special education students.
In 2005, 247 Minnesota schools landed on the list. Last year, the number rose to 729, and this year nearly half of the state's 1,900 schools fell short. More than half of state schools didn't make AYP, but will not suffer any penalty because they don't receive Title I federal funds. Many in that category -- including Edina, which Newsweek ranked earlier this year as one of the top 100 high schools in the country -- made the list because of scores from a small number of English learners, special needs or lower-income kids.
That doesn't mean those kids should be ignored. Minnesota has one of the widest achievement disparities in the nation, which makes it crucial to focus resources on bringing all students up to speed. Still, it's inaccurate to label an entire school as failing when a handful of kids fail a single test. That's one of the many NCLB flaws that needs to be addressed.
Presidential candidates Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama both call for revising NCLB, though they emphasize different changes. And last year, a Minnesota group of lawmakers and educators recommended practical revisions, including extending proficiency deadlines and measuring individual student progress over time.
Once again, the AYP list demonstrates the need to overhaul NCLB -- and step up efforts to assist lower achieving students.