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Federal standards: Only LP-A makes the grade -- Special ed and low-income kids 'left behind' in DL, Frazee, Waubun

Most of Minnesota's public school districts didn't meet federal Adequate Yearly Progress guidelines mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act.

That trend didn't let up in Becker County, as the Lake Park-Audubon district was the only one to meet AYP standards.

LP-A Superintendent Dale Hogie doesn't want a pat on the back for the school's marks, though, since AYP is based on performance on the state's MCA-II exams, which he dislikes.

"I'm not a big fan of standardized tests in how they determine success," Hogie said.

But he added that he's happy that LP-A wasn't one of the 296 districts that didn't meet AYP.

"I'm glad we have areas in which we go against the norm," Hogie said.

The tests can be a challenge for educators, since the standards are broken down into several sub-groups -- including special education students and those who receive free and reduced-priced meals. If a sub-group fails in one area in one grade, the district as a whole gets tagged with failing to meet adequate yearly progress.

Detroit Lakes superintendent Doug Froke said that special education calculations are complicated.

Those students still have to meet the same math and reading proficiency standards as other students, with a complex formula that weights the results.

School districts can also exempt one percent of special education students from the results pool.

In Detroit Lakes, that means five students out of 500 special education students.

But Froke doesn't want to put the blame on sub-groups for Detroit Lakes not meeting AYP standards.

He said that the results show that there are some needs to be addressed in the district.

How to do that in the upcoming year without neglecting other needs is the challenge Froke and other superintendents have to face.

On top of tending to existing needs, the AYP bar keeps rising. The standards increase until 2014, when all students need to be proficient in math and reading.

The fact that Detroit Lakes is on warning status now for not meeting AYP, along with rising standards, means that it has a tough fight on its hands to stay compliant.

"The downfall of the logistics is that, because the consequences are punitive in nature, there is not subsequent funding to assist districts in areas," Froke said.

So the more help a district needs, the less money it receives.

Frazee-Vergas didn't make AYP either. As in Detroit Lakes, not enough special education and low-income students were deemed to be proficient in math.

Frazee superintendent Deron Stender said that not meeting AYP gives the public the notion that a school is failing, when it is actually doing its job well.

"It's given public education its biggest black eyes," Stender said. "With us, it's not black eyes (not meeting AYP in two areas)."

He said that grouping students together isn't fair to anyone.

"I don't believe every kid has the ability to produce at the same level," Stender said.

Stender compared it to athletic ability, in which he said he can't golf as well as Tiger Woods, and no one expects him to.

Despite the illustration, Stender said he doesn't doubt there are needs that be addressed.

Waubun-Ogema-White Earth was hit the hardest by the failure to reach AYP.

It didn't make AYP for all students in reading and missed the cut in math for special education and free-reduced lunch students.

"It drives our staff development," said Waubun superintendent Mitch Anderson of how AYP affects teaching plans in the district.

As with many other superintendents, Anderson thinks AYP statistics distort the true situation in the classroom.

"It's not a clear-cut true picture," he said. "There are so many different variables."

Instead of grouping students together, he favors a model where an individual student's progress is measured year-to-year.

"I'm more in favor of a student-growth model in which we measure where students are now and a year later," Anderson said.

Frazee and Waubun are also on notice that they need to make AYP or they risk losing federal Title I funding that help educate low-income students.

Another year of failing to meet AYP gives students the option to transfer, which is moot for open-enrollment districts. Three straight years of failing to meet AYP means that the districts need to pay for special tutoring outside of the classroom.

Mandated school reorganization and possible takeover are provided for in the NCLB statutes for districts that continue to fail to meet AYP down the road.

Froke and Stender said that all could change as the result of the next presidential election.

Edina's failure to meet AYP could spark that in Minnesota, Froke said. That district was recently named to a Newsweek list placing it among the top 100 schools in the country.

"It will be interesting to watch at the state and national levels in light of these scores," Froke said. "Reputable schools that provide exemplary services that are on the list have people asking questions about the system."

Stender said the fact that a major district in the Twin Cities that has been considered good in the past isn't making AYP can help put some sense into the federal standards.

"The districts that have political influence will drive change on AYP," Stender said.

And changing how to measure student accomplishment has to be a part of the discussion, Froke said.

"We need to come up with a better system to assess kids," he said.