Minnesota sends message on No Child Left Behind

Published 9:07 am Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Albert Lea school board feels that student achievement is very important, and we are accountable for the educational outcomes of students. One of our goals is to identify measurable achievement goals for every student. It is my feeling that the 2001 federal accountability requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act is not an appropriate way to measure real student achievement each year.

While the law has great intentions, not every state has the same expectations for success, and states do not have the same tests. However, the strongest concern I have is for the expectations for success in reading and math set by NCLB for every student, despite their English language skills or learning challenges.

Primarily because of applying these testing expectations to many special groups of students including, new English language learners and special education students, more than a third of the schools in Minnesota missed their state imposed testing target in 2007. It is predicted that the number of schools missing their target will continue to increase this year.

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In the 2008 legislative session, a House version of the budget bill called for Minnesota to opt out of NCLB, but a pullout could result in the state reportedly losing $219 million in federal education funding.

So what exactly were Minnesota lawmakers trying to do? I think they were attempting to send a message to the U.S. Congress that despite good intentions of NCLB, many Minnesotans are frustrated with this federal legislation. Minnesotans know that their schools and students are scoring very well by many other indicators.

Over this past year, our district staff has been working very hard to increase student achievement as measured by these state tests. Our staff works very hard to help each student achieve educational success. Vision Driven Action Plans have been utilized for several years by all our teachers. A part of each plan has been improving student achievement in reading and math.

Besides individual teacher action plans, each school also sets goals for student achievement. Our teachers and administrators analyze their student test data to develop instructional strategies to help all students increase their level of achievement.

Professional development is an important tool to reach our district student achievement goals. While each teacher is highly qualified, continued study and research is essential for them to implement the best teaching strategies to help each student reach his academic goals for the year.

Teachers use their work the with state’s Alternative Teacher Professional Pay System program to aid their research and study. Recently the Minnesota Department of Education approved our district ATPPS plan for year three and commended our district and teachers’ efforts. The plan included professional development, peer observations, new team/teaching strategies, indicators to measure student achievement and much more. Academic growth by students was measured in reading and math that shows good advancement by students from fall to spring.

NCLB must shift from being a program of consequences and sanctions to one that helps students achieve high expectations such as our district uses with its fall to spring growth goals.

If it is continued, NCLB also should be fully funded by the federal government to help school districts reach the educational goals set by our state testing or change the rules.

Our schools are faced with growing sets of challenges; however, we do not receive the dollars needed to accomplish these expectations. Despite the concerns of this legislation, political leaders, lobbyists and educators predict Minnesota won’t be getting rid of NCLB any time soon.

Please realize that our staff is dedicated and works very hard to have all students achieve more and become great citizens in our community. The board will continue to monitor “benchmarks” toward the district’s student achievement goals. Soon we will be updating our Web site to show our progress toward reaching our student achievement goals in reading and math.

Ken Petersen is the chairman of the Albert Lea school board.