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Report shows Minnesota schools fall short of federal goals
A new analysis of graduation rates, test scores and other public school data shows Minnesota needs to make a lot of improvements to meet new federal education requirements. The 2002 Minnesota Education Yearbook looks specifically at how well schools are measuring up to the demands of the No Child Left Behind law.

St. Paul, Minn. — Since 1998, the Office of Educational Accountability at the University of Minnesota has published its annual review of key statistics on schools and students. This year's edition examines the data in light of the No Child Left Behind act. The new federal law requires all states and school districts to follow strict rules on student testing, teacher training and accountability. It also expects schools to improve the achievement level of all students. The director of the accountability office, Mark Davison, says Minnesota schools have a lot of work to do. He says statewide test scores have leveled off in recent years.

"Many of the schools will need rather large increases in their achievement test scores, in order to meet the targets of No Child Left Behind," Davison said.

Many of the schools will need rather large increases in their achievement test scores, in order to meet the targets of No Child Left Behind
- Mark Davison, Office of Educational Accountability

Under the federal requirements, state test scores must be broken down into various student subgroups, including English Language Learners, special education students and students from low income families. The law requires improvement in each subgroup. All students must meet state proficiency standards in 12 years. Davison says the Minnesota's enrollment trends show big challenges ahead for schools.

"As they're trying to improve achievement levels, the number of kids who need various kinds of additional services, like English as a second language classes or special education classes, is on the increase," Davison said. "And that will probably make it more difficult for them to meet their targets."

Even with the growth in the number of students with special needs, Davison says overall enrollment in Minnesota has experienced a modest decline.

The accountability report also says Minnesota schools must improve test participation numbers. Currently, test day attendance falls well below the 95 percent requirement of the No Child Left Behind law. Schools that don't meet the benchmark will land on a list of underperforming schools. State Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke says one way to boost test participation is to raise the stakes for students.

"As we begin our annual testing in grades three through eight, the test results can be used along with other indicators, such as classroom performance, grades, other test scores, teacher evaluations and parent-teacher conferences," Yecke said. "The test scores can be one of that multiple set of criteria that will determine whether a child is promoted or retained, in other words passed on to the next grade or held back a grade."

Yecke says the key to improving the state's test scores is new academic standards. She wants to replace the current show-what-you-know Profile of Learning with new content-based standards. She says the standards must be clear, rigorous and grade level specific.

"Higher standards, higher expectations. Children rise to the occasion, teachers rise to the occasion," Yecke said. "And parents are pleased when they see their children being challenged intellectually. So, I think we're on the cusp of great things in the state of Minnesota, and we'll be seeing increases in student academic achievement."

The Minnesota House and Senate have voted to repeal the Profile, but the replacement standards approved in each body differ sharply. Yecke says she's confident a compromise can be reached before the Legislature adjourns May 19.

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