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Waiver sought for No Child Left Behind; what's next (08/24/2011)
By Cynthya Porter

Minnesota could become one of the first states to request a waiver for No Child Left Behind, the legislation aimed at education reform that has embroiled pundits in debate about its effectiveness.

Enacted in 2001, No Child Left Behind imposes an escalating series of consequences on districts that do not demonstrate academic proficiency among a measurably growing number of its students.

Those sanctions are too expensive for districts, critics say, and are tapping the education system of the funds needed to instill true reforms into classrooms, reforms they say are not centered on high stakes testing.

President Obama created the pathway for states to ask that they be exempt from the NCLB law after he expressed frustration that the law has not been reworked and renewed by Congress since it was scheduled to be four years ago.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton questioned the usefulness of high stakes testing in education reform and suggested the stringent guidelines of NCLB unfairly label schools as “failing” because of low performance by subgroups of students.

In a statement issued this week, Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said accountability for student success is important, but that there are more effective ways to measure a district’s success in raising student performance.

Obama is pressing for reforms to the NCLB legislation and encouraging all states to request waivers pending those reforms.

Minnesota is one of just six states to indicate so far it intends to do so.

As Minnesota prepares its waiver request, the Minnesota Department of Education released preliminary state science assessment results this week, showing flat performance among most groups tested.

According to officials, 54 percent of high school students in the state met proficiency levels on the science test, as did 46 percent of fifth graders. Both figures held steady with last year’s results. Eighth graders declined slightly in their proficiency level, with 45 percent deemed proficient.

Remaining state assessment results are due to be released later this month, and officials are saying it’s likely more schools and districts will be added to the list of those sanctioned by NCLB legislation.

But persistently low results have prompted concern among state education officials, who were effective in seeing several staff development and evaluation tools implemented to new legislation in Minnesota for the coming biennium.

In Winona, performance on academic standards testing has brought concern and run the district into NCLB consequences.

However, despite lagging test scores, a review of graduation rates in District 861 since NCLB was instituted shows a marked increase in the number of students who graduate, from about three quarters to nearly 90 percent.

Individual district and school results on state assessments will be released to the public by the end of August.  


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