Minnesota students as a whole scored about the same on reading and math tests in 2009 as they did in 2008.
But that won't be good enough to keep more than half the state's school districts from being labeled as underperforming under the federal No Child Left Behind education law.
The Department of Education published results Wednesday for seven grades worth of testing in reading and math. They showed mostly minor shifts in passing rates from 2008 to 2009.
The main exception was among high school juniors, who posted an 8-point jump in math from the year before.
"Pleased, but not satisfied," state testing director Dirk Mattson said in describing the scores. "There's a lot of work yet to be done."
The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments II were administered to a half million students in grades 3-11 last spring. The tests are intended to gauge how well schools are moving toward a goal of all students doing work at their grade level by the 2013-14 school year.
The benchmarks each district is required to meet increase each year. That's why scores similar to last year's or even showing some improvement could fall short of this year's goals.
The state's list of schools labeled as not making adequate yearly progress is commonly called the AYP list.
Schools can be forced to divert Title I funding to provide tutoring or allow transfers to other schools in a district if they are on the list for more than a year or two. The longer they are on the list the more severe the penalties. Schools could be forced to replace some staff. Eventually, the state could take over a school and force reorganization.
Last year, 937 schools fell short of the federal goals. When a new list is released in August, Deputy Education Commissioner Chas Anderson expects it to be even longer, with more than half of Minnesota's public schools on it.
Results are grouped into four categories: does not meet, partially meets, meets or exceeds standards. The passing rate combines the top two categories.
As in the past, the youngest students had the highest proficiency rates in both subjects -- with third-graders posting success rates of 82 percent in math and 78 percent in reading.
The oldest made the largest percentage gains when compared to previous scores. In math, almost 42 percent of high school juniors met or exceeded academic expectations this year compared with about 34 percent in 2008. In reading, sophomores climbed above 74 percent from just less than 71 percent the previous year.
This year was the first the math test was part of a graduation requirement. The10th-grade reading test is also a graduation requirement.
Of 20 area schools, 12 had 10th-grade scores equaling or exceeding the state average of 74.2 percent meeting or exceeding expectations. On the math test, 13 of the schools had scores that were lower than the state average of 41.6 meeting or exceeding expectations.
The Legislature suspended the requirement and decided that students would be able to use successful completion of math courses to demonstrate their ability to meet state standards.
There is discussion in Washington about changing No Child Left Behind, but there's been no action yet.
School officials in west central Minnesota have criticized the federal law for having a laudable but unrealistic goal and for dealing with schools in a punitive rather than supportive way.
Renville County West Superintendent Lance Bagstad said he questioned the way the system labels school buildings and school districts.
"Schools are doing a good job; kids do a good job," he said. "I don't think half of the schools in this state are failing."
Danith Clausen, director of curriculum and instruction for the Willmar School District, said preliminary AYP data indicates that the district will be listed as not making AYP.
Scores in some tests improved over last year -- third-grade and 11th-grade scores were up in math; reading scores were up for seventh-graders and 10th graders.
But in other grades, there was little variation from previous years, with some scores increasing a little or decreasing a little, Clausen said.
The district has teams of data coaches who will work together this summer and fall to mine through the mountains of data the state sends. They'll try to refine the data so it can be more useful to teachers and parents in assessing the needs of individual students.
Clausen said the tests probably don't reflect all the things Willmar is trying to do to help its students.
"We have a lot we're working on," she said. For example, the district is incorporating new reading strategies at different grade levels and has a pilot project for having English Language Learner instructors team teach with classroom teachers.
"You don't see results show up overnight," she said.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this story.