Challenges laid out for schools

By Joshua Lynsen

Several schools in southeastern Minnesota are being challenged to improve their students' academic scores and attendance.

Aside from six schools identified within Rochester, another half-dozen schools in regional districts must improve in areas measured by the No Child Left Behind Act. The most common problem is that too few students are taking the standardized math test.

Dave Thompson, superintendent of Stewartville Public Schools, said this was the only reason Bonner Elementary made the watch list.


"The problem was we didn't have (the required) 95 percent of students take the test because it was flu time," he said. "They only gave us a certain window of time, but our kids were still sick, so what are you gonna do?"

Because the watch list announced Monday is considered preliminary, Thompson has 30 days to appeal the designation to the Minnesota Department of Education.

Other schools, however, must deal with students' low test scores. Such problems were shown in Austin, where Sumner Elementary's reduced-cost meal students had low math test scores.

Similar problems were found in Winona, where Washington Elementary's reduced-cost meal students had low scores in math and reading. But Sue Roehrich, curriculum director for Winona Area Public Schools, said she planned to challenge the math test results.

"We anticipated our third-grade reading would be an area where we would have to work on improvement," she said. "There was no indication about math being an issue."

Under No Child Left Behind, schools are held accountable for the performance of subgroups as well as the total population. That means low scores of minority students or poor students can land an otherwise high-performing school on the list.

Other local schools on the watch list include the Kasson-Mantorville Learning Center, La Crescent-Hokah Public School's Bluff Country Learning Options and the Pine Island-Zumbrota Alternative Learning Program. All three schools had low attendance.

Kasson-Mantorville Superintendent Mike Smith said students attending the Learning Center are there because they have some learning challenges; however, he is not downplaying the issue and said the district will make whatever changes are necessary to help students improve.


The results must be kept in perspective, Smith said. "We're talking about 30 students over there out of 1,900 kids."

In Minnesota, 259 schools made the list, fewer than state officials initially expected. In May, they predicted up to 425 elementary schools alone could fall short of standards. But strong third- and fifth-grade test scores and a change in the way special education students are counted kept some at-risk schools off the list. Other schools fell short of test-score goals but avoided the underperforming label because their students showed healthy gains.

Of the schools that didn't make "adequate yearly progress," 131 are elementary schools. The rest -- 128 -- are middle schools, high schools or another type of public school. Minnesota has 1,835 public schools.

"I'm very pleased with the results," Department of Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke said.

"Folks out there are understanding the importance of ensuring every kid has a quality education, and they are working hard to make that happen."

The full list is available at:

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