Start seeing students.

Posted by admin
Sep 26 2006

There’s nothing worse than being forced to play a game where you have no control over the rules and different rules for different teams, where you have no say regarding who gets the good equipment and who gets the worn-out equipment, where the goal posts keep shifting, where you didn’t have any chances of winning from the beginning, and after every time you lose you are forced to reorganize your team and possibly do without a team member after each loss. Yet that is exactly what the No Child Left Behind Act has done, and the proof of this can be seen, once again, in Minneapolis’ test scores from the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments.

Minneapolis schools show slide on latest test results (Minneapolis Star-Tribune):

The Minneapolis school district slid backward overall last year in meeting the ever-increasing academic targets set by the No Child Left Behind law.

Less than half of the 64 traditional schools or 48 percent, met their achievement targets in tests given last spring. That’s down from 41 of 70 schools, or 59 percent, the year before.

The district today jumped ahead of most of the state’s school districts by releasing preliminary results of last spring’s testing. Most others are waiting for final numbers in mid-November. State officials say the process is taking longer this year because new tests were used to measure new state academic standards.-

But with many of its schools required to notify parents of their status or begin planning for improvements, Minneapolis decided to go public.

The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments in reading and math were given to grades three through eight last spring. High school sophomores were tested on reading and juniors on math. A school doesn’t pass if it misses targets for any of 18 demographic groups, or for attendance or graduation rates.

Here’s a quick summary of the highlights from the Strib’s article :

  • Minneapolis, our state’s largest district, has the greatest number of students from families in poverty and has the greatest amount of student diversity of any other city.
  • Minneapolis had seventy schools in 2004. That shrunk to sixty-four in 2005.
  • Last year, new tests were developed, along with new standards. Minnesota’s tests take more than thirty variables into account when measuring student progress.
  • Some schools that did not pass the MCAs either have had to reorganize or will have to reorganize.
  • A majority of MInneapolis’ elementary schools (K-5) passed the tests (21 out of 28), doing better than the previous year.
  • Middle schools and K-8 schools did not do well. Only six “won the game.”
  • All seven of Minneapolis’ major high schools lost.

Now, here’s what did not make it into the article, based from my recent experiences and anecdotal observations in the field last year and this year:

  • Student enrollment is declining in the city, but appears to be growing increasingly diverse.
  • Class sizes were large the year before and last year. They’ve grown larger this year, from the early grades to through high school.
  • The student body in Minneapolis goes through a lot of changes throughout the school year as new students arrive and other students leave. Last spring, during a one-month subbing assignment, I took in about three or four new students. That’s a lot of fluctuations requiring adjustments from teachers and students.
  • Teachers have been laid off yearly in Minneapolis by the hundreds.
  • Support for teachers have declined, from assistant principals all the way down to janitors.
  • The emphasis on basic reading and math assessments is having an effect on all other subject areas as they are compelled to design their areas around the goal of making sure students pass the MCAs.
  • At some schools, this meant pulling students out of (as an example from my experience)their social studies classes to receive tutoring in order to prepare them for the test.
  • Some students have, quite unfortunately yet understandably, looked at the emphasis on the standardized tests as placing a concomitant de-emphasis on the academic subjects they are taking.

The whole idea and implementation of top-down rules and standardized testing has created a no-win situation for the students of Minneapolis, their families, and for all residents of this good city. What makes matters worse is that the game is rigged and adds injury to the insults Minneapolis’ schools receive through the penalties issued against the city’s failing schools, forces them to regroup and start all over again. What Minneapolis’ schools require is a state government and citizenry that recognizes the unique challenges it faces in providing a quality education to students and possesses the willingness to address those needs in a fair and equitable manner. In short, we need to skip the state tests and start seeing the students.

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