MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Nearly half of Minnesota schools didn’t make the grade under the federal No Child Left Behind law in 2011, the Minnesota Department of Education reported Friday, but a new waiver program could make it the last time the state releases the controversial list.
Minnesota applied unsuccessfully for a temporary waiver to the law in August. Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said the state will reapply under a program announced by the U.S. Department of Education earlier this month. The federal government is offering to give states a pass on some requirements of the law in exchange for certain reforms.
“We know that many of our schools are being labeled on what we considered to be a failed system,” Cassellius said.
Until the waiver is granted or the law is rewritten, Cassellius said, the state must follow the law and report the schools that didn’t hit the benchmarks in the 9-year-old No Child Left Behind law. School districts must also abide by the sanctions in the law for at least another year.
“There is a chance we could not be approved,” she said, so districts shouldn’t ignore the penalties in the law. “I want to be very clear that school districts must comply with state and federal law.”
The department reported that 1,056, or 47 percent, of Minnesota’s 2,255 schools failed to make “Adequate Yearly Progress” on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments toward the law’s goal of having all students proficient in reading and math by 2014. That’s about the same percentage as 2010.
Fifty-four percent of high schools, 66 percent of middle schools and 45 percent of elementary schools didn’t make the progress expected in the law. There were 286 schools on the failure list in 2011 that weren’t on it in 2010. Likewise, the test scores of 272 schools improved enough from 2010 to come off the list.
Samuel Kramer, federal education policy specialist for the state Education Department, said the state plans to apply for the waiver in November and hopes to get relief from the law by mid-year, but the 2012-2013 school year is probably more realistic.
In the meantime schools that didn’t meet the requirements of the law this year will face at least one more year of sanctions, which escalate the longer a school is on the failure list and can culminate with a restructuring that replaces most of the school’s staff.
He said some of the steps would help the school with whatever policy replaces No Child Left Behind, particularly the requirement for the schools that make the failing list for the first time to take a hard look at testing data and student needs and write a plan for improvement.
“If you’re doing them this year, they will provide some steps for the future,” Kramer said of the plans.
The No Child Left Behind law has been widely criticized for calling too many schools failures, in part because low test scores by a small subgroup of students can bring the label down on the whole school. It also encouraged states to lower their standards in the early years to keep more schools off the failure list.
As 2014 nears, many states that let their standards lag are seeing a spike in the number of schools failing to meet the law’s benchmarks. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has warned that 82 percent of the nation’s schools will be called failures next year, although some experts have disputed that figure.
The share of Minnesota schools labeled as failing has held about steady, Kramer said, because the state has maintained high expectations for its schools. For example, he said, the new state math test taken in third through eighth grades last year was considered to be one of the hardest such exams in the nation by a team of peer reviewers.
Kramer said giving the more difficult test allowed the state to recalculate how it labeled schools. If it had not done so, an additional 400 schools Minnesota would have been labeled as failing and faced penalties.
“Those kind of backroom bureaucratic decisions have the practical effect of labeling these schools as failures,” he said.
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