Austin schools fail to meet standards

Published 9:11 am Wednesday, August 11, 2010

For the third year in a row, the Austin Public School District has failed to meet state standards and, as a result, federal No Child Left Behind standards as well.

According to Minnesota Department of Education data released Tuesday night, students across the district did not hit all of the state’s benchmarks, which require school districts to have a given percentage of students pass standardized MCA-II tests based on grade level and subject.

These results were reported to the federal government, which takes the state numbers into account when determining funding through the NCLB program.

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Despite the Austin school district not meeting the standards, it did improve from last year by having one area school, Southgate Elementary, succeed at achieving Adequate Yearly Progress, which measures whether schools improved enough based on federal goals that call for all American students to hit state standards by 2014. Last year, no area school made AYP.

Statewide, 1,060 schools made AYP this year, a six school decrease from 2009, and 1,048 did not make AYP, with 183 schools having insufficient data.

Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said in a press release that the state was encouraged that even though the percentage of students required to meet proficiency is increasing each year, the number of schools failing to meet AYP has not increased — in other words, schools are keeping up.

However, in Austin, that has not been the case, as seven out of the eight schools in the district failed to meet AYP benchmarks. Because of that, those local failing schools also receiving Title One federal funding —Neveln Elementary, Southgate Elementary and Sumner Elementary— will have 30 percent of those funds withheld in 2011, as all of the schools have missed the mark for at least two years. The withheld money must be made available to help facilitate parents if they wish to switch schools.

In addition, Sumner Elementary is entering the third year of failing to meet standards, so it will be required to also make the withheld funds available for hiring tutors for struggling students. If any Austin school would fail to make AYP for four or more years in a row, that school would be subject to corrective action or restructuring.

The school district must also notify parents about the result as well as write and implement an improvement plan.

School officials react

Austin school officials gave several reasons for Austin not making AYP.

According to John Alberts, director of educational services, AYP is not a sufficient indicator of school progress since it does not take into account school improvement. He argues that it only indicates whether a school meets “artificial” standards determined by the state and that it does not adequately follow the progress of a group of students from year to year.

Austin Superintendent David Krenz also takes issue with the process.

“MCAs are one-shot test scores and they compare one grade, one year, against one grade in another year. It’s a not a realistic view,” Krenz said. “This would be like the Twins playing the White Sox last year and they beat them six games out of seven. Then the Red Sox and the Yankees playing and the Red Sox beating the Yankees. You try to say who is doing better.”

School officials also cited the challenge of the school in dealing with a changing population. Because the test highlights scores in eight subgroups, which includes Limited English Proficiency students, this has become an issue for the Austin school district. The district gained 100 more LEP students this year alone. Minority student population has increased 151 percent over the last 10 years.

“I’m not saying LEP are the only reason why, because they’re not. However, this is one reason why it would be more conducive to for us to be compared to other like schools instead of the state. I liken it to how I’m not proficient in Spanish and if you asked me to take the MCA in Spanish, I would have trouble with it,” said Alberts.

He also said this explains why Austin was able to improve slightly in math this year, because it was a language neutral subject.

Requirements for making AYP

The Minnesota AYP looks at four areas: Participation, proficiency, attendance and graduation.

Schools must test 95 percent of all students in reading and math.

The school must also report the participation and scores of nine groups: all students, white, black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, special education, American Indian, Limited English Proficient and free and reduced lunch. There must be at least 40 students in a category for its scores to be considered. If any of the groups fail to have 95 percent participation, the school will not make AYP. If a school or school district fails to meet goals in any of the groups, the school is deemed as not making AYP.

Minnesota has set goals for each grade in math and reading that will lead to 100 percent of schools meeting standards by 2014. Students pass the standards if MCA-II test scores indicate they have met or exceeded standards. Students whose scores indicate they have not met or partially met standards do not pass.

If a school does not meet standards, but shows 10 percent improvement of students who previously did not pass exams, it will be considered to have met its AYP goals.

Schools must also have adequate graduation rates or adequate attendance rates to meet its goals.