Some Minnesota officials are concerned that more high schools could be listed as making inadequate progress.
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced new regulations for the controversial federal No Child Left Behind law on Tuesday, and some of them might make more Minnesota high schools show up on the annual list of schools not meeting their progress goals.
"These rules take on the silent epidemic of high school dropouts," Spellings said. "Nationwide, half our minority students get out of high school on time. ... For too long, we have allowed this crisis to be hidden and obscured."
The No Child Left Behind law mandates that states track how different student groups fare in school. It also requires that high schools meet annual targets for improving graduation rates, but states are allowed to set their own targets for improvements.
The new regulations include requirements that all states calculate and report graduation rates in a uniform way, starting in the 2010-2011 school year, and track the graduation rates of varying student groups, such as poor students and students of color.
Minnesota already posts graduation rates in the way that the new regulations will require, according to the Minnesota Department of Education: Based on 2006-07 data, the state's graduation rate is 73 percent.
That's calculated by figuring the percentage of students who finish high school with a regular diploma in four years. The secretary of education now will consider exceptions for kids who take five or six years to graduate, such as students learning English or with disabilities.
In April, after the U.S. Department of Education proposed the new regulations, Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren wrote to the department saying that she was concerned with the requirement that states use "disaggregated" graduation data to determine whether high schools were making adequate progress.
Starting with the 2011-12 school year, states will have to use graduation data from nine different student groups -- divided by race, income and English proficiency -- to see whether schools are making the grade.
While the intent of the regulation is to prevent schools from hiding inadequate performance of poor students and students of color among generally good average graduation rates, some officials think it will make it even harder for Minnesota schools to make the grade.
In 2008, 52 percent of the state's high schools did not meet their progress goals.
"As you continuously add more and more 'yes' and 'no' determinations, it becomes more and more complex for districts to be able to meet" annual goals, said Christy Hovanetz Lassila, assistant Minnesota education commissioner.
'Irritating to the ridiculous'
Charlie Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, put it more bluntly: "If these new regulations are adding another layer of ways for schools to fail, it just literally is moving from the very irritating to the ridiculous. There's a point when school districts and even states are going to be looking at the federal government and saying, 'What are you thinking?'"
According to the law, states must test how different student groups are faring. If one group -- such as poor students -- fails to meet state targets, the school is labeled as not making "adequate yearly progress."
For schools receiving Title I money, failure means penalties that increase over time, from having to offer transfers and tutoring to restructuring a whole school. The proficiency level required each year increases -- by 2014, the law says, every student group in the country has to pass the tests.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Emily Johns • 651-298-1541