ST. PAUL (AP) -- Minnesota's plan for holding public schools accountable for student achievement won federal approval Tuesday, helping President Bush mark universal compliance with his No Child Left Behind education law.
State Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke joined Bush and other school leaders at a Rose Garden ceremony to announce that all states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia are officially on board with the national law. Minnesota was among the final 17 states to get the green light.
With only one of 10 members of Minnesota's congressional delegation voting for it, Congress passed a law in 2001 that forced each state to describe how it would ensure that all public school students were succeeding in reading and math. The law also gave parents more power to have their children tutored at public expense, or pull them out of struggling schools entirely.
Minnesota's accountability plan has four main criteria for judging schools and districts: attendance, graduation rates, test participation and proficiency.
Elementary and middle schools must have an average daily attendance rate of 90 percent or show they are closing in on that goal. High school graduation rates must be 80 percent or climbing.
The law requires annual testing in math and reading for students in grades three through eight, beginning in the 2005-2006 school year. In Minnesota, the tests will correspond with new fact-based academic standards assembled as part of a legislative deal to scrap the Profile of Learning.
State officials will require schools to give the tests to at least 95 percent of their students. The goal applies to the general population and subgroups covering students of different racial, economic or special-needs backgrounds.
Likewise, schools will be graded on how well their students perform on the tests as a whole and among the various subgroups. Schools that don't hit a state-determined target can be pegged as needing improvement.
Provisions of act
Some of the highlights of the No Child Left Behind Act:
--Annual state tests in reading and mathematics for every child in grades three through eight, beginning in the 2005-06 school year. Schools must also test students in science in three grades.
--A public school in which scores fail to improve over six years can be re-staffed.
--All students must be proficient in reading and math by 2014.
--Schools must close gaps in test scores between wealthy and poor students and white and minority students.
--School districts must allow, and even help, students at struggling schools transfer within the district. If a school fails state standards in three out of four years, districts must pay for supplemental tutoring.
Schools identified as struggling two years in a row must pay transportation costs to transfer students who ask to attend better-performing schools. After three years, they must provide private tutoring at their expense. After five years, they can be shut down and reopened with completely new staffs.
"Everyone understands that this is the age of accountability," Yecke said on a conference call from Washington. "The value of No Child Left Behind is it peels back the layers so you know how all children are doing."
Later this month, she will release a preliminary list of schools that aren't showing "adequate yearly progress" under the new system. Schools have a month to appeal before a final list comes out July 31.
The roster is expected to be long.
In May, Yecke's department produced a computer simulation that showed 426 out of 1,007 elementary schools in the state, or 42 percent, would fall short of expectations under the federal law.
The simulation was based on 2001-02 third- and fifth-grade test results, and Yecke said the 2003 scores will move some schools into the safe zone.
Yecke said some schools will land on the list because of the lagging scores of special-education, poor and minority students.
That's fine with U.S. Undersecretary of Education Gene Hickok, who said highlighting those disparities is critical to fixing them.
"It's no longer good enough to have high average test scores," Hickok. "It's important to get beyond the averages to find out the achievement gaps."
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