Most Duluth-area schools fail to meet Minnesota math, reading standards

Eight of 10 area school districts, including Duluth, failed to meet standards under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Released Friday, the annual adequate yearly progress report card came even as the Minnesota Department of Education is worki...

AYP results
News Tribune graphic

Eight of 10 area school districts, including Duluth, failed to meet standards under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Released Friday, the annual adequate yearly progress report card came even as the Minnesota Department of Education is working to free itself from the law's controversial mandates. The Obama administration last week outlined guidelines and a timeline for states to do that through a waiver process.

The Duluth school district failed to meet AYP standards as a whole for the sixth year in a row. Only two of the 13 Duluth district schools open last year -- Lakewood and Lester Park elementary schools -- met AYP.

Failure to meet the pass-fail standard was more common than not among area districts. Even some that made AYP last year -- including Duluth Edison Charter Schools, Wrenshall and Harbor City International -- failed this year. Only Cloquet and Esko school districts met state standards for reading and math proficiency.

To make AYP, all sub-groups of students in the district must be deemed proficient in math and reading, measured by their performance on the MCA II test. Graduation, participation and attendance also are taken into account. Failure by any group of students on either test means failure for the entire school and district, and benchmarks and penalties rise each year.


Targets for a new, tougher math test were recalibrated by the state last spring after test scores plummeted. Even more schools might have failed if the targets hadn't been changed.

One-size-fits-all mandates and labeling schools as "failures" is a flawed way to address the unique challenges of some schools, said Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.

"We know that many of our schools are being labeled on what we consider to be a failed system," she said.

Under current federal law, all students must be proficient in both reading and math by 2014. The state had applied for a waiver this summer, and it will resubmit its application under the new process, Cassellius said. Until the state receives a waiver, districts must follow sanctions under the current No Child Left Behind law.

A waiver would free states from the 2014 deadline and allow more flexibility in how they measure student achievement.

That's good news to Tawnyea Lake, director of assessment, evaluation and performance for the Duluth district.

Duluth's data shows a few instances in which a group of students kept the whole school from passing. At Homecroft, which made AYP in 2010, low-income students didn't meet reading proficiency standards this year, so the whole school failed to make AYP. The same happened at Congdon Park, where special education students as a group didn't meet reading standards, and at East, where low-income students didn't meet AYP for math.

Some schools saw widespread failure among their students. No groups of students at Morgan Park Middle School met reading standards. At Central/Denfeld, all groups but one failed to reach the "proficient" level in both reading and math.


One school failed because it was one student short of meeting standards, Lake said.

"A lot is at stake based on one test score," she said. "If any one of those (four AYP benchmarks) is nicked, the school is not making AYP."

Duluth supports developing better systems to prepare students for college or the work force, focusing on the improvements that occur, not the failures, Lake said. Nettleton Elementary remains on the failure list but had a double-digit increase in reading and math scores.

"We should be excited about that and celebrating it," she said.

Duluth did meet graduation, participation and attendance targets. Graduation rates were 90 percent, a 7 percentage point increase from last year, when it didn't meet the target.

Esko schools have made AYP every year of the nearly 10-year-old law. But Superintendent Aaron Fischer, who credits focus, good discussion and teaching aligned with state standards, doesn't think Esko's teachers are working any harder than those at other schools.

"It's great for Esko, but the reality is, there is good education happening all over Northeastern Minnesota," he said. "We're all in this together, for the work force of this area. I don't believe those are all failing districts. It could be us tomorrow."

Some districts in the area are in various stages of AYP sanctions. Only those schools that receive Title I funds from the state must take corrective action for sanctions. Carrying the corrective-action label are Proctor, with its two elementary schools not meeting standards, and Duluth. That means they must set aside some Title I money for an improvement plan and to tutor at-risk kids in the schools that qualify. If families choose to have their students in Title I schools bused to another school, the district must foot the bill.

What To Read Next
Get Local