Jack Geller, Crookston, column: Some rural schools stand out in recent tests
By Jack Geller CROOKSTON -- The good news first came in June, when the Minnesota Department of Education released the results of the standardized tests taken earlier across the state by our elementary and secondary students. Known as the MCA II, ...
By Jack Geller
CROOKSTON -- The good news first came in June, when the Minnesota Department of Education released the results of the standardized tests taken earlier across the state by our elementary and secondary students. Known as the MCA II, these are the tests that the federal government uses to determine whether our public schools are making "Adequate Yearly Progress" toward their goals as part of the No Child Left Behind program.
And once again, test scores were up, which I'm sure helped a number of school superintendents breathe a sigh of relief.
But hidden amid the good news was a paragraph toward the back of the Department of Education press release equivalent to the other shoe dropping, as it stated that the number of schools not making Adequate Yearly Progress in 2008 will increase. For you see, while our kids continue to make progress by increasing their test scores, the federal standards that our schools must meet simultaneously rise. So, ratcheting up the scores simply isn't good enough; rather, we must ratchet them up faster than the federal government is ratcheting up its standards.
The consequence of such a misguided system arrived in August, when the list of schools that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress was released -- and as Paul Harvey says, we learned the rest of the story. It turns out that regardless of the fact that test scores continued to rise, the percentage of Minnesota schools failing to make adequate progress rapidly accelerated: from 25 percent in 2006 to 38 percent in 2007 to 49 percent in 2008.
Yes that's right; virtually half of all Minnesota schools failed to make the grade.
Further, some experts predict that if this system continues and is left unchanged, by 2011, 100 percent of Minnesota schools will fail to make adequate progress as defined by the federal government.
It reminds me of the futile game between Lucy and Charlie Brown. Regardless of how hard Charlie Brown tries to kick that field goal, just as he has that moment of victory in sight, Lucy snatches the football and Charlie whiffs it, ending up on his backside.
Does this make any sense at all for a state whose students for years have ranked among the nation's best?
Not to change the subject too dramatically, I must say that trying to find some good news in all of this counterintuitive logic isn't easy; but if you look hard enough, it is there.
It turns out that of all of our schools and grades tested in Minnesota in 2008, only 38 had test results indicating that 100 percent of their students met or exceeded the required standards. (Most schools had at least a few students that did not meet or partially met the standards.)
So, I went through the data, located all 38 of these gold-medal winners and discovered that 33 of the 38 -- 87 percent -- were in small, rural communities across Minnesota. These exemplary girls and boys were not located in the Twin City suburbs of Edina, Woodbury or Wayzata, but rather they were in Greater Minnesota communities such as Ortonville, Hancock, Lancaster, Starbuck, Battle Lake or Comfrey.
I've written often about how well rural schools perform with their small class sizes and strong community ties. And once again, the proof is right there in the pudding. But extra special recognition must go out to that one class that stood above all the rest.
So, congratulations to the third-grade class at Hills-Beaver Creek Elementary School in rural southwestern Minnesota. Regardless of the illogic of the federal No Child Left Behind program, you stand alone as the one and only group of students tested where 100 percent of you not only met the standards, but 100 percent of you exceeded the standards.
To plagiarize from Mr. Keillor, you are all clearly above average.
Geller is a professor and head of the arts, humanities and social sciences at the University of Minnesota, Crookston. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .