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Minnesota One of Ten States to Leave 'No Child' Behind

The President announced Thursday Minnesota’s proposed reforms to its standards and accountability measures would meet requirements to replace the federal No Child Left Behind law passed nearly a decade ago.

Lakeville schools are leaving behind the federal education law No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Well, actually, all of Minnesota is.

President Barack Obama announced Thursday that Minnesota would be one of 10 states to receive a reprieve from NCLB in exchange for new, “bold” reforms to improve teacher effectiveness, grade school accountability and efforts to close the achievement gap in social and ethnic categories.

The waiver was something Minnesota's education leaders, with Gov. Mark Dayton's support, applied for in August, and was also supported locally by the .

"I would say almost everybody in education supports reform and waiving current the requirements," said Jason Molesky, the district's assessment and accountability coordinator. "We’ve seen Lakeville schools as being labeled as in need of improvement, but we have data saying teachers and students are doing a great job."

Molesky pointed to the punitive nature and unrealistic targets of NCLB as major factors in the law being hard on schools.

Under the waiver, rather than simply being judged on proficiency levels of students taking their annual Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests, schools and districts will now be graded on year-over-year measurements of student growth on MCA tests as well as school district graduation rates and strides toward closing achievement gaps.

"That should really help Lakeville schools, because even those schools not making Adequate Yearly Progress (under NCLB)—they were making huge strides in their learning," Molesky said. "It'll offer a more comprehensive picture of the whole school."

Officially, Minnesota requested the waiver from NCLB last August. Led by Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, and using the four new measures for school performance, three school designations will be created as a replacement for simply making AYP or not. Schools scoring in the bottom 5 percent will be designated as “Priority Schools,” where the state will focus on developing and implementing a turnaround plan for that school, or school district.

The next bottom 10 percent of schools, as measured by the state, will be tagged as “Focus Schools.” These schools will be asked to work with their respective school district and the MDE to identify which subgroups are creating an achievement gap, and target an improvement plan to address specific needs.

Schools in the top 15 percent will be identified as “Reward Schools.” These schools will be asked to share best practices with MDE, and will be “publicly recognized” at the state level for their work.

The punitive portion of NCLB came, Molesky said, when an entire school was penalized (categorized as “not achieving AYP”) for one sub-category failing to reach its goal.

Instead, through its four measures, those sub-categories will attain the most assistance, Cassellius said.  

Obama granted the federal waivers after “waiting too long for reform,” he said. The administration requested rewrites to the national act back in 2010.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the current NCLB law, as written, causes narrowing of curriculum.

It also changes how Lakeville schools can use its Title I funding it gets from the federal government. Generally, Lakeville schools have used Title I funds to pay for tutoring for students who are struggling, Molesky said.

But as the district and schools began missing AYP, the district was forced to set aside up to 20 percent of those dollars for federal mandates.

"This allows us more flexibility in how we spend Title I funding," Molesky said.

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