Principals across Minnesota don't think it is possible for the state's schools to meet the goals set out in the federal No Child Left Behind law, according to a survey released Tuesday by the St. Paul-based think tank Minnesota 2020 and the state's principal associations.

According to the survey, 97 percent of responding principals say that the law's main goal, to have every student proficient on math and reading tests by 2014, is unattainable.

More than 70 percent of the principals say their schools spend more time and resources on test preparation in the law's wake, and 40 percent say they have taken away class time from arts and other subjects.

"What No Child Left Behind is increasingly doing is causing our very limited resources to be allocated for assessment," said Joann Knuth, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals.

About 740 of the state's roughly 1,800 principals responded to the online, opt-in survey in December.

Minnesota 2020 was founded by Matt Entenza, the former DFL leader of the Minnesota House who is also exploring a 2010 run for governor. Members of the Minnesota Elementary School Principals' Association and the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals participated.

According to the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, states need to test how different student groups fare in school. If one group -- such as special education students -- fails to meet test targets, the whole school is labeled as not making "adequate yearly progress."

For schools receiving federal Title I money, failure means penalties that increase over time, from having to offer transfers and tutoring, to restructuring an entire school.

The proficiency level required each year is a moving target -- by 2014, the law says, every student group in the country is supposed to pass the tests, which in Minnesota come in the form of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments-II, the MCA-II.

In 2008, just under half of the state's 1,951 schools did not meet targets on the state tests.

According to the survey, just under 85 percent of the principals think that the MCA-II is not an effective measure of student academic achievement.

Chas Anderson, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education, said in a statement that the law and the state's "rigorous academic standards and accountability system" were created with bipartisan support.

She said the department and Minnesota education leaders, including school administrators, have made several recommendations to Congress to improve the federal law.

"It would be a serious mistake to turn back the clock on efforts to prepare every student for success. Our system of education accountability must be built on the idea that every student has a right to high expectations."

Asked whether his thoughts about running for governor may have affected the survey, Entenza said, "This survey was done on principals, not on me." He said he hasn't decided whether to run yet.

Of the survey, he said, "The numbers speak for themselves."

Emily Johns • 612-673-7460


Visit the website for Minnesota 2020 at

See how your child's school fared on the state tests at