Hundreds of school districts in the state are not making significant progress in closing achievement gaps, including the state’s largest urban districts, Minneapolis and St. Paul.

All Minnesota school districts and charter schools are required to improve reading and math test scores, boost graduation rates and cut achievement gaps for all students, under a state law passed in 2013.

But in its first progress report, the Minnesota Department of Education says that many are not meeting their targets.

If they do not meet their goals by the 2017-18 school year, some of their state funding could be in jeopardy.

In math, more than half of the state’s districts and charter schools are not meeting their score targets for special education students, students with limited English, black students and poor students.

In reading, most districts met their targets for students of color, but more than half did not meet their goals for special education and white students.

“The results are not going to be immediate,” said Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius in an interview. “But this kind of attention is what is going to make Minnesota move as an entire state.”

Urban districts struggling

The state law, known as World’s Best Workforce, tracks how well the state’s 167 charter schools and about 350 school districts are meeting goals in five areas: school readiness, all third-grade students reading at grade level, all students attaining career and college readiness before graduating high school, all students graduating from high school, and closing achievement gaps among all racial and ethnic groups of students and between students living in poverty and students not in poverty.

Districts and charters create their own plans, and the state tracks their progress.

In the past, the state has monitored performance of schools that received funding for low-income students, but under the World’s Best Workforce, the state requires every public district and charter in the state to meet goals for graduation and academic standards.

Many of the districts missing their goals are in the metro area.

The St. Paul Public Schools district did not meet any of its goals aimed at closing gaps in achievement on math and reading tests. It will need to increase its graduation rate by nearly 15 percent to meet the state’s goal that at least 90 percent of all students graduate by 2020.

Minneapolis did not reach many of its goals for closing gaps on math and reading test scores, including for students of color and those living in poverty. Minneapolis did meet its goals for white students.

Minneapolis will need to improve its graduation rate by more than 31 percent to meet the 2020 goal.

“We will not meet our state goals without Minneapolis and St. Paul,” Cassellius said. “It is essential that we all partner together and that it is all hands on deck.”

Those two districts have not taken advantage of the support centers that the education department established to help struggling districts, she said. Officials from both districts say they already have the staff and expertise in-house to address the issues.

Minneapolis Interim Superintendent Michael Goar said that although he agrees with the work of the regional support centers, “there is no one silver bullet that will solve the problem, which includes the [centers].”

“We have something like that already,” Goar said, adding that Minneapolis receives support from Generation Next, a nonprofit seeking to close achievement gaps.

Other metro districts that did not meet the majority of their achievement gap closure goals include Columbia Heights, Burnsville, Robbinsdale and Brooklyn Center.

On Tuesday, officials from Brooklyn Center schools told the Senate Education Committee that their academic improvement plan focuses on community partnership schools, which have other services such a medical clinic or a day care center but cost more money to run.

Willie Finley, a program coordinator in Brooklyn Center, urged the senators to fund those partnership schools to help districts meet their goals. “More districts are ready to implement this model,” he said.

Financial implications

If districts and charters do not meet their targets by the 2017-18 school year, the state’s education commissioner, Cassellius, is authorized to set aside up to 2 percent of a district’s state funding.

Districts would be required to spend that money on specific programs they create, aimed at addressing the district’s World’s Best Workforce plan. In a “worst-case scenario” where districts don’t meet their goals for three years straight, Cassellius said her department might need to be involved in creating a corrective plan.