Tuesday, August 11, 2009

AYP: Woe Is Lake Wobegone, Minnesota, Well Not Really

Unlike New Mexico, public education in Minnesota has an excellent reputation.

And yet 46% of the schools in the Land of 10,000 Lakes failed to make AYP this year. Not quite as high as the percentage of New Mexico schools, but still enough to make you think the citizens of Minnesota would be clutching their hearts and choking on their lutefisk. You'd think the outcry over this fact would be massive.

But it's not.

Taking a look at Minnesotan news coverage of the test reports, you get a far different perspective than the one presented down here in the Land of The Sky Is Falling. For one thing, unlike Albuquerque Journal stories where Superintendents get one, maybe two quotes explaining things, the Minnesota stories allow school officials to stretch their mental legs a bit. Consider this lengthy look at the other side of the NCLB coin from a TV station in Austin, MN:
The grades are in when it comes to No Child Left Behind and one local superintendent says things really aren't as bad as they look. New figures from the state show that nearly half of the schools in Minnesota are not making their annual progress goals. As parents, should we be concerned about that? It's been said, "the numbers don't lie".

But maybe they don't tell the whole story.

"The district was labeled essentially not making adequate yearly progress," says (Austin School Official) John Alberts. AYP came out of the no child left behind law, which says that all students must be proficient in math and reading by the year 2014. Student demographics were different when the standards were put in place 8 years ago. "Maybe someone needs to take a look at it and adjust it to meet the needs that are different than the intention," says (Austin) Superintendent David Krenz.

But along the way, there are benchmarks beyond the adequate yearly progress figures to measure their progress. "So districts can also show growth in different areas, while at the same time not meeting the AYP mark," Alberts says. But along the way, there are benchmarks beyond the adequate yearly progress figures to measure their progress. So districts can also show growth in different areas, while at the same time not meeting the AYP mark," Alberts says.

And the Austin school district showed that growth. "Three percent progress, as a matter of fact," Alberts says. "If you look at research into what 21st century schools need to look like, it goes well beyond a test," says Krenz.

And that's a TV station report.

Then there's this story Minnesota Public Radio that I would like to frame and send to every public school teacher in New Mexico. The entire tone of the piece is paradigmatically unlike anything you see/read here. An excerpt:

There were, however, a few dozen schools that improved enough this year to be taken off the list, including Mankato West High. Even so, principal Brian Gersich isn't celebrating too much.

"We're not on the list, but it might not be by much," he said. "And we have to continue to focus our time and energy in those areas. We're not setting up the ticker tape parade because we're not on it this year. We could very well be on it next year."

Gersich says he hopes parents remember that plenty of schools on the list are of the highest caliber. In fact, he thinks every single school in the state is doomed to a spot on the list if the No Child Left Behind law doesn't changed.

That change might be on the way. NCLB is up for renewal and Congress is expected to take up that debate later this year.

David Heistad, the head data analyst for Minneapolis schools, says he thinks the law will change to increase emphasis on how much each student improves each year, even if that student started with very low proficiency.

It's a change Heistad says would save many schools in his district from the label of "failing."

"We'll still have tests and they'll still be given every year, as far as I can tell, so you can measure growth from one year to another," said Heistad. "But I think the dynamic around labeling schools as 'failing schools' is going to change."

I'm not joking or exaggerating when I say if I read a passage like the above from a New Mexico media outlet I would both fall out of my chair and have a heart attack. It's like these Minnesotans are from a different planet or something. It's like all those lakes are full of drinking water than chills one out, so to speak.

And I'll spare further gigantor quotes, but here's another Minnesota story from the small town of Morris. And here's a TV report from Mankato. And so on (note the long quote slamming NCLB). And so on.

For a place quite obviously beginning the horrific collapse of its public education system, Minnesotans seem both calm about the scores and optimistic about positive changes to No Child Left Behind. If only they could share some of that serenity with us down here in New Mexico.


Anonymous said...

Scot, a question. I realize it is up to the states to decide how many special ed students there have to be in order to mandate they be tested. Is it the state or the feds that mandate they take the tests on their grade level as opposed to their instructional level?


jscotkey said...

Anothermouse: I've never seen a direct, stated in those exact words, mandate from the Feds in regards to grade v. instructional level, but that's not to say one does not exist.

In practice, States have taken the NCLB guidelines to mean testing SpEd kids at grade level, and then have made proposals to alter this over the years. The U.S. Dept. of Ed. has looked over these sorts of proposals and approved some while rejecting others. Georgia would be an example of this approval process, and they will be giving an altogether different assessment to SpEd kids next year.

Note: As for really giving tests at instructional level look for the term "growth model"...it's a buzzword for the idea of truly individualizing scores/tests for students, deriving growth patterns and determining "proficiency" based on how far a student has come from Point A to Point B, etc.

And real quick before I head off to Day One of the school year...the numbers question with SpEd kids isn't whether they are tested, but whether enough are at a school for their scores to count as a separate subgroup. SpEd kid scores/proficiency rates go into the "all students" hopper regardless of whether the number hits the State-mandated number needed to count as a subgroup or not.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification Scot, and thanks again for your wonderful blog!