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Schools flagged for test results

Eight local schools are among 71 in North Dakota that didn't meet state standards in reading and math proficiency last year, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.

Eight local schools are among 71 in North Dakota that didn't meet state standards in reading and math proficiency last year, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.

As a result, the schools have been labeled as not meeting adequate yearly progress (AYP) under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

All Fargo and West Fargo schools' composite test scores met or exceeded state standards.

Where the identified schools fell short was in the test scores of students who traditionally have been underserved -- the poor, minorities, students with disabilities and students who aren't proficient in English.

No Child Left Behind requires schools to report separately the test scores of these subgroups.

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The Fargo schools identified are: Jefferson Elementary, Ben Franklin Junior High, Discovery Junior High, North High and South High. Madison Elementary, previously on a federal "needs improvement" list, made AYP and was taken off probation.

The West Fargo schools are: Eastwood Elementary, South Elementary and the middle school.

"The way we've always looked at the information before was to average everyone together," said Gary Gronberg, assistant superintendent for the state. "Then the schools looked pretty good. Now they're being identified as not making yearly progress."

At least 95 percent of a school's students need to take the reading and math tests in grades 4, 8 and 12.

No consequences yet

All of the Fargo and West Fargo schools identified Wednesday were flagged for the first time.

Under the federal law, there are no consequences in the first year of not making annual AYP. Parents will receive a letter explaining why the school didn't meet the proficiency standards.

Future consequences only affect Title I schools, which serve a higher percentage of low-income students. Title I schools that didn't make AYP this year were Fargo's Jefferson Elementary, and West Fargo's South and Eastwood elementaries.

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If a school fails to make AYP for two consecutive years, it enters improvement status.

Title I schools face sanctions and are eligible for extra resources.

Schools that aren't Title I deal only with the stigma of the "needs improvement" label if they don't make AYP during the second consecutive year. They face no penalties and receive no extra funding.

Testing concerns

Local administrators said they weren't surprised by the annual AYP reports, but emphasized lingering controversy over rigid testing standards.

"It's a difficult pill to swallow when we are slated as not making adequate yearly progress in our special areas," said Louise Dardis, assistant West Fargo superintendent.

For example, an eighth- grade student with a reading disability may read at a fourth-grade level, but No Child Left Behind requires that student to be tested at the same level as his or her peers.

"They could be making improvement every year, but they still have special needs," Dardis said.

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Only 1 percent of special needs students can take a test adapted to their needs.

Fargo Superintendent David Flowers said the principles of No Child Left Behind and state testing are on target, but the tests measure a narrow range of achievement.

His concern is that students in the subgroups could become stigmatized over the results.

"It's healthy to look at how well we are educating students in the subgroups, but the fear is that people will blame the subgroups for not testing better," he said.

Also, a number of North Dakota schools had subgroups that fell into the category of "insufficient data," Gronberg said. In these cases there weren't enough students to give an accurate statistical picture, so the results didn't count.

"What it comes down to is I think we need to celebrate the fact that 345 schools did make adequate yearly progress," he said. "That's a good number."

Both Fargo and West Fargo administrators said their schools would continue to look for ways to improve education for all students.

"We'll continue to monitor students so they perform to the best of their abilities," Dardis said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erin Hemme Froslie at (701) 241-5534

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