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Educators: Federal standards too high

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- The requirements of the new "No Child Left Behind" law are so demanding that every school in Minneapolis and St. Paul and many in affluent suburbs could be tagged failures, some educators contend.

"There would be some very good schools that would not make it almost right from the start," said Mark Davison, director of the University of Minnesota's Office of Educational Accountability.

Davison researched the law as part of a committee of state officials, educators and legislators working to meet deadlines for complying with the federal law signed by President Bush last January.

The law has many provisions, including testing, teacher quality and school safety.

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So far, it's generally been poor urban schools, and a smattering of others, that have been labeled as low-performing because their average scores on state tests have been too low.

But "No Child Left Behind" requires minimum test scores for not just entire schools but also subgroups of students -- such as poor, racial minority, non-English-speaking and special-education -- within those schools.

That means many more schools could be tarred as failures. For example, in the Wayzata, Edina and Maple Grove schools Davison studied, as many as 15 percent of the students didn't score the minimum, the current state cutoff for "low-performing" schools.

By the 2013-14 school year, every student in every school has to score at least the minimum on every one of the 16 tests required by the law.

Some superintendents fear the law could lead to a decline in public schools.

"There's the fear that in a decade public schools will either disappear or look far, far different from what they do today," said Mike Kremer, superintendent of the suburban Hopkins school district. He estimated that nine of his district's 10 schools could be labeled as failures under the testing provisions of the new law. That, in turn, could lead to eroding public faith in the schools and a boom in new private schools.

Some even wonder if there's a hidden agenda to discredit public schools and pave the way for privatizing the public school system. Even educators who stop short of making such predictions project a huge failure rate among the state's schools.

"I wouldn't be surprised if half the suburban schools are identified (as failures)," said Dave Heistad, Minneapolis schools' director of research, evaluation and assessment. He said he's anticipating that "many if not all" of the Minneapolis schools will fall into this category.

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