August 6, 2008

Proficiency Percentages Low: Standards Rise As Districts Struggle

By Tanner Kent, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.

Aug. 6--For several years now, area educators and admin-istrators have been warning that eventually all schools will be on the list of those not making adequate yearly progress.

And the numbers, slowly but gradually, are proving them right.

In 2006, about threefourths of all Minnesota schools made AYP. In 2007, the percentage dipped to 62. This year, about 50 percent of schools made AYP.

With No Child Left Behind's stated goal of achieving 100 percent proficiency by 2014, the trend

is clearly going in the wrong direction.

"With the proficiency standards and expectations always increasing, there's a scenario in the future where it's going to be very difficult for schools to stay off the list," said New Ulm Supt. Harold Remme.

Part of the scenario is already beginning to manifest.

Several years ago, it was much easier for school districts to attain reading and math proficiency with their special education population. But as the proficiency standards rise, so too does the number of districts unable to reach the standard. And because a sizable percentage of special education students are, by definition, not achieving at grade level, that makes meeting the standards quite challenging.

In The Free Press coverage area, 14 out of the 15 public school districts that missed AYP were not proficient in their special education population. And while statewide numbers were unavailable, even a cursory evaluation shows the trend isn't just local.

"People can be very critical of No Child Left Behind -- and there is some room for that," said St. Peter Supt. Jeff Olson. "But it can also be useful in making changes to curriculum."

St. Peter, which madeAYP last year, was one of the districts that missed AYP this year in its special education category. In response, Olson said the district is reviewing ways to align its special education and mainstream curricula.

Remme said New Ulm, which made AYP as a district for all student groups, is also taking a close look at its special education programs. He said his district -- like all in the area -- spends days, weeks and even months poring over data and trying to find ways to use it to improve teaching.

But Remme said continually increasing -- and in some cases, unrealistic -- standards will eventually catch up with just about everyone.

"At some point in time," he said, " you won't have any trick cards left, and there won't be much else to do."


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