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DL officials frustrated by school standards

The Detroit Lakes School Board received a crash course in test scores and adequate yearly progress requirements during Monday morning's meeting.

In light of July's release of Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments Series II results and the school district receiving notice of not making adequate yearly progress (AYP) district Education Director Lowell Niklaus dove into the nitty-gritty of the data.

At the lower grades -elementary school level -Detroit Lakes is besting the state average.

"In many cases, the district is above the state average when it comes to proficiency," Niklaus said.

Older students aren't doing quite as well.

For the 2006-07 school year, the percentage of Detroit Lakes students who are proficient in math was several points below the state average.

The glaring deficit came in seventh-grade math, where only 44.5 percent of Detroit Lakes' students were considered proficient, compared to a state average of 61.4 percent.

That number was a spike from previous years when Detroit Lakes' averages were just a few percentage points below the statewide figure.

Despite the low scores in some grades, the district missed meeting AYP in two areas -- free and reduced-price lunch and special education students.

Niklaus said that the federal regulations regarding special education students seem unfair because they have to be proficient as well, no matter how profound a disability is.

"This one is where I have the biggest irritation with NCLB and AYP," Niklaus said.

"The student in 11th-grade who can't read, can't write, and is a special-ed student operating at the level of five years of age is expected to meet the same standard (as a student taking calculus)," he added. "How that kid is ever going to get there, I don't know."

The district applied for a waiver to increase the number of special education students exempt from AYP calculations -- currently at 1 percent.

But the state only increased that to 1.5 percent.

"How generous of them," Niklaus said of the state's waiver.

The breadth of Detroit Lakes' special education program is hurting AYP, according to Niklaus, since the district provides services that smaller districts don't provide.

"We're almost a regional center for low-incidence programming," Niklaus said.

The district can't refuse those students just because of special education status.

No matter what district a severely disabled student resides in, that student's test results are tied to where they go to school.

"There are certain issues when it comes to AYP that make it difficult to do," Niklaus said.

Niklaus warned that the looming problems with AYP wouldn't come with just sub-groups. The entire student population has to be proficient by 2014.

"In my opinion, if the law doesn't change, every school in this country is not going to be making AYP in 2014," Niklaus said. "Unless they're lying, cheating, or I don't know how they (would be) doing it."

Other action the board took included approving payroll deductions to support the Detroit Lakes Public Education Foundation.

The DLPEF is designed to help support academic programs that currently do not receive funding.

The goal of the foundation is to raise $250,000 initially, and it has reached about half of that goal.

Former district business manager Richard Lundeen helped provide seed money for the foundation after winning a financial award after being name the Minnesota School Business Official of the Year in 2005.

The foundation envisions the school district setting up a process for school officials to apply for grants.

Lundeen said that the Fargo school district has had a foundation in place for several years that is similar in scope and successful.

He added that the foundation wants to support academic efforts.

"Because of the tightness of funding, what has happened is that we haven't been creative in some things that could really help student learning," said DLPEF Board of Directors member Deb Wimmer. "That comes from not having the dollars."

The board also approved several bids for a new wrestling building on the eastern side of the high school.

In partnership with the wrestling boosters, the district's share will be $125,000. The boosters will pick up the other portion of the $280,000 cost.

The only item not decided was the bid for utilities, and that will go out for another quote before being approved at a future board meeting.