For the first time in Minnesota, there was no increase in the number of schools who are failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
The number on the list stayed exactly the same -- a sign of improvement and a surprise for some education officials.
One criticism of No Child Left Behind is that it sets schools up to fail. It requires that every child be proficient in math and reading by 2014. Critics laud the goal, but say it's impossible to achieve.
The number of kids who must be proficient will keep increasing until the goal reaches 100 percent in 2014. So, the thinking goes, as the benchmarks increase, more schools won't be able to keep up and they'll fall onto the list of those not making "adequate yearly progress," or AYP.
But something surprising happened this year in Minnesota: the number of schools not making AYP stayed exactly the same. The number is 1,048, which still represents about half of all schools in Minnesota.
But the fact that the number didn't change surprised Charlie Kyte, a former school superintendent who now heads the Minnesota School Administrators Association.
"My expectation was the percentage of schools was going to go up 6 to 8 percent," he said. "Only staying the same means there's been significant improvement in Minnesota schools over this past year -- because the bar's higher."
Kyte says the mystery is now whether this was a one-time fluke that will give way next year to the yearly growth in the size of the list that was common until now.
AYP is measured by splitting students into 27 subgroups, based on the subject area and students' ethnicity. How Hispanic students scored on the math test is an example of one of those groups. And it only takes students in one of those groups to miss benchmarks for the whole school to be considered not making adequate progress.
School leaders referred to that as getting 'dinged.' And this year, more than half -- 545 -- of the 1,048 schools on the list were 'dinged' because they didn't meet proficiency in just one subgroup.
Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said the state tried years ago to add flexibility, so a school wouldn't necessarily be dinged if it misses in just one group. But the federal government refused that request.
"I think it demonstrates sort of the flaw, if you will -- or the frustration -- of No Child Left Behind because you can be dinged every single year for just one subgroup," Seagren said. "It's a continual process of looking at what's happening with all your children and continuing to adapt and adjust."
And while the number of schools on the list is the same as last year, the actual number of schools is slightly different. Some schools improved and came off the list; others got dinged and are now on it. It just so happens those two numbers are the same.
The state's teachers union, Education Minnesota, also issued a statement, saying the new AYP numbers reiterate the flaws of No Child Left Behind.
The law is up for renewal but that renewal has been pushed back to at least next year.