By Starrla Cray
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Nearly half of all Minnesota schools didn’t make “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) this year, but the outlook for Dassel-Cokato School District is a little brighter.
“Dassel-Cokato made AYP in every area and as a district,” Superintendent Jeff Powers noted.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, a school makes AYP if it achieves the minimum levels of improvement determined by the state in performance measures such as MCA-II tests, attendance, and graduation rates.
“The goal of the act is to have every child testing at grade-level in reading and math by 2014,” Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Middle School Principal Jim Schimelpfenig said.
Last year, Dassel-Cokato, as a district, didn’t make AYP.
“Because we are on the state’s ‘in need of improvement list,’ we need to make AYP in the 2010-11 school year to get off of the list,” Powers said.
At Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School District, the high school and both elementary schools made AYP this year. However, students are divided into segments, and the “free and reduced lunch” test cell at the middle school did not make “adequate progress” in reading this year.
“Because of that, the district did not make AYP,” Schimelpfenig said. “Now, we have to create an improvement plan and submit it to MDE (Minnesota Department of Education).”
Rather than simply focus only on the students who are struggling to pass the requirement, HLWW’s goal is to continuously improve education in all areas.
“I feel we have a much greater obligation to educate students at their level, and to challenge all students,” Schimelpfenig said. “You do need to balance your resources.”
If a school’s only objective were to pass the AYP, teachers could zero in on just students who perform poorly, and neglect the higher performing students.
“It would work, but our teachers and parents, rightfully so, wouldn’t stand for that,” Schimelpfenig said.
In the case of the “free and reduced lunch” cell, it’s not practical to target those students and single them out for special instruction.
“That’s why we’re focused on school-wide improvement,” Schimelpfenig said.
Watertown-Mayer School District is in a similar situation this year. The district passed as a whole, but the “free and reduced” lunch students weren’t proficient in the area of reading.
“Special education” is another test cell that typically gets attention.
To have all special education students testing at grade level is “kind of an oxymoron,” according to Schimelpfenig.
“The irony is, these are students with special needs who are not up to grade level; that’s why they’re in the program,” he said.
However, it is still necessary to pass the AYP, or else schools may be required to pay for tutoring or other services.
“We don’t make the rules; we just have to follow them,” Schimelpfenig said.
“We continue to focus on the needs of all of our students, by providing differentiated instruction and remedial opportunities at every level,” Powers noted.
The first year a school doesn’t make AYP, it is on a “watch list,” Schimelpfenig said. The second year, it is on an official “needs improvement” list.
The MDE can track up to 54 subgroups in a school, including ethnic classifications, poverty level, special education, and more.
If a school doesn’t have enough students to make a significant subgroup, that category is not measured for AYP.
The cost of the No Child Left Behind Act has risen greatly since its enactment in 2001.
According to a US Department of Education press release, congress increased federal funding of education from $42.2 billion in 2001 to $54.4 billion in 2007. No Child Left Behind received a 40.4 percent increase, from $17.4 billion in 2001 to $24.4 billion in 2007.
To see a full breakdown of AYP results for all schools in Minnesota, go to www. education.state.mn.us.