NY, Minn. Finalize Lists of Underperforming Schools

One of the requirements for the No Child Left Behind Act waiver granted to Minnesota was that the state develop a process to identify and label underachieving schools to subject them to corrective actions. The guidelines developed by the state, which identify roughly 213 schools as not meeting performance requirements in some manner, are much less stringent than those that would be applied under NCLB, which would have made more than 1,000 of the state schools subject to financial and administrative sanctions.

All schools listed in the final roundup released by the state this week all receive federal Title I funding aimed to improve academic conditions for students from depressed economic background. In order to maintain the current funding levels, all the schools that have been identified must submit an improvement plan to the state’s Board of Education. But unlike in previous years, these schools will not have to either pay for students to transfer to better-performing schools or to provide additional tutoring.

Advocates of the new system say it gives everyone a much clearer picture on how Minnesota’s schools are really faring.

“Some will look at this with a healthy dose of skepticism, but it’s really giving educators a whole new level of data to assess students and gives them a much better idea about where to focus improvement efforts,” Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said.

The criteria used to judge schools includes student standardized test scores in core subjects like mathematics and English as well as individual academic achievement. Metrics also include the current trends of high school graduation rates of current and former students.

A similar process of assessing and classifying schools is also currently underway in New York, which was awarded its own NCLB waiver earlier this year.

The schools were chosen through a new system now that New York has a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law, giving it more flexibility over federal dollars. Schools are no longer labeled Schools in Need of Improvement (SINI) if they don’t meet certain performance targets for specific groups of students, such as blacks, Hispanics, and English Language Learners. Instead, the state looks at the bottom 15 percent and labels the schools “priority” or “focus.”

Those placed in either of the two groups will have to submit improvement plans, with those falling in the bottom 5% of all schools being required to put the plan into effect as early as the 2014-15 school year.

Over 700 schools around New York State found themselves in one of the two underachieving categories, but more than half of those were schools from the five boroughs of New York City. Included among them are the schools that Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to close and reopen this year.

The news, however, wasn’t all bad, as several of the city’s schools topped the list of high-achieving institutions, including the city’s specialized high schools Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Millennium.