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Schools hold their ground in state tests; improvement seen for some

Minnesota's public schools and their students seem to have held steady this year in the state's assessment of how well the schools are teaching reading and math.

Statewide, the number of schools that are listed as making adequate yearly progress was about the same, but students' scores improved. AYP is a measurement of annual performance on state-wide assessment tests ad-ministered each spring. It is part of the No Child Left Behind federal education law.

In west central Minnesota, five districts are listed as making adequate progress, including MACCRAY, which moved off the list of schools not making AYP. A dozen districts are listed as not making AYP. In some cases, the districts' students did well overall, but students in one or more subgroups did not meet standards.

There are dozens of ways a school district or building can fail to make adequate progress. If any subgroup of students does not make adequate progress, an entire school building or district can be labeled.

"I am encouraged that even as the percent of students required to meet proficiency is increasing each year, we are not seeing a corresponding increase in schools not meeting targets," said Commissioner Alice Seagren in a statement. "We need to continue our focus to help each and every child prepare for college and career success."

The department reported that the number of students who did not meet proficiency standards decreased this year. Many schools were able to reach "safe harbor," a designation for schools that show improvement even though they do not meet their NCLB goals.

The goal of NCLB is to have all students proficient in math and reading at their grade level by 2014. To work toward that goal, districts are expected to have more students meet proficiency levels each year.

Danith Clausen, Willmar's director of curriculum and instruction, said she was pleased to see Willmar's students show growth in the past year. The district reached safe harbor in some categories and nearly made it in others.

Districts that don't make AYP for several years in a row are required to use some of their federal Title I funding to develop an improvement plan. The plan includes tutoring help for students and additional training for teachers.

"Our efforts are starting to pay off," Clausen said, but "we still have a long way to go."

Willmar has a significant minority population, and that population includes students who are learning English. Willmar also has a large population of low-income students which includes students from every ethnic group.

Students in some of those groups struggle to do work at their age level, though they are showing academic growth, Clausen said.

"We certainly see progress in our kids ... we measure that," she said. To Clausen, that should be the ultimate goal of the program -- "growth for all the kids."

Congress will be reauthorizing No Child Left Behind soon. While it's not clear what changes might be made, Clausen said she hopes some of the punitive aspects of the program will be changed.

"Some pieces are useful to us," Clausen said, but NCLB does require "lots of paperwork."

The district has been required to offer tutoring to students, and many of them have received that from the Rainbow Learners program offered by Willmar Community Education and Recreation.

"We feel good about the things happening there," she said, but it's troubling to see the district's Title I money diverted from its intended purpose of helping elementary students struggling with reading and math.

In west central Minnesota, Dawson-Boyd, Benson, MACCRAY, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City and Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa schools are listed as making adequate progress.

Montevideo, New London-Spicer, Willmar, Litchfield, Paynesville, Hancock, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, Minnewaska, Yellow Medicine East, BOLD, Lac qui Parle Valley and Renville County West schools are listed as not making AYP.

Montevideo, NLS, Willmar, Litchfield, Paynesville, MACCRAY, BOLD and Lac qui Parle Valley were listed by the state as making progress.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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