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How some of nation’s ‘top schools’ can end up on state’s ‘failing’ list

Leaders of some of Minnesota’s top-ranked school districts predicted unusual results like these back when No Child Left Behind first became law and too much attention was paid to high-stakes tests.

Today’s post is a modest expansion on something that turned up on Twitter: Three of the nine Minnesota schools that made Newsweek’s top 500 are also on the list of schools that are failing, according to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Let’s pause to offer a wholesale shout-out to the Minnesota Progressive Project blogger responsible, who identifies himself or herself simply as Alec, a teacher.

Edina ranked highest on the list, at 76th nationwide; Mahtomedi second at 158; Lakeville North at 178; Century in Rochester at 210; followed closely by Eden Prairie at 213; St. Louis Park Senior at 248; Andover at 364; Apple Valley at 451 and Inver Grove Heights’ Simley at 478.

The losers: Century met 94.4 percent of the requirements for showing adequate yearly progress, but failed because not enough African-American students scored as proficient in math. The 1,500-student school graduated almost 99 percent of its mostly middle-class and affluent seniors.

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Simley Senior High met 88 percent of AYP requirements but failed to produce passing test scores among Latinos in reading and special-education students in math. One-fourth of the school’s 1,100 students are low-income; its graduation rate is nearly 97 percent.

Andover Senior High in the Anoka-Hennepin district met almost 87 percent of AYP requirements, failing to produce adequate test scores from its special-education students. Only 12 percent of the school’s 1,600 students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches; 99.5 percent of its seniors graduate.

Leaders of some of Minnesota’s top-ranked school districts predicted results like these back when NCLB first became the law of the land. It was, they posited, just one more reason why the rush to pin more and more education policies on high-stakes tests was shortsighted at best.

Alec goes them one better: It’s also meaningless. Most schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress face an escalating series of consequences. But none of the three programs are at risk of suffering the financial consequences that accompany bombing out under NCLB. The law, which is up for renewal and by extension one of Congress’ hotter potatoes, punishes slackers by taking away Title I funds, which are not doled out to affluent schools.

I had given up looking at the lists of top schools and institutions of higher education that drive newsstand sales for the national glossies. Whenever I did, I’d wonder why the schools made the list. Best according to whom or by what measure? Best for all kids or just the pocket-protector set? Or, more typically, best for all kids or just the wealthy ones?

I can’t tell you how many precious hours I lost reading the agate type under the lists’ “methodology” headings. Did you know the U.S. News and World Report law school rankings are based in part on the number of volumes in schools’ libraries? I suppose the amount of good the graduates go out and do in the world is hard to put on a spreadsheet.

In compiling its list, Newsweek used to lean heavily on the number of students taking Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses and exams. I’ve written critically about this in the past, noting that Minneapolis’ Southwest High School has been a perennial winner because of this. Of course, up until recently Southwest was the only Minneapolis high school offering costly IB programming, which relatively few students do more than sample.

And I’ve noted that using a rubric designed to measure how well a school serves all of its students, U.S. News in 2008 named MPS’ Patrick Henry one of the nation’s top high schools.

Newsweek recruited a decorated panel of education policy types to overhaul its methodology: Teach for America Founder Wendy Kopp; Open Education Solutions’ Tom Vander Ark, onetime Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation executive director for education; and Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford professor of education, author of The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future” and campaign education adviser to Barack Obama.

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The new methodology ranks schools using a formula designed to gauge a school’s ability to turn out college- and life-ready graduates. The new formula: graduation rate (25 percent); college matriculation rate (25 percent); AP tests taken per graduate (25 percent); average SAT/ACT scores (10 percent); average AP/IB/AICE scores (10 percent) and AP courses offered (5 percent).

Show yourself, Alec, and there’s a MinnPost yard sign in it for you.