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Minnesota Trims Proposed Standards

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Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Monday unveiled a new, trimmed-down version of Minnesota's proposed academic standards, a package he and state education officials hope will replace the controversial Profile of Learning.

The reworked proposal followed concerns that the first draft contained too many standards and that some were too demanding for their specific grade level.

"Average isn't good enough for our kids. The standards will help our kids move beyond that," said Cheri Pierson Yecke, the state education commissioner who on Monday also unveiled her proposal for the state to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires sweeping changes in how schools and students will be tested and judged. Her department estimated 40 percent of Minnesota's elementary schools, including those in districts with good reputations, would end up on the list of schools not making adequate yearly progress.

The revised standards package follows a series of 14 public hearings held around the state. An 80-member committee suggested a number of changes from the draft version first released March 11. Among the changes:

" Because there were too many kindergarten standards for half-day programs, several were moved to first grade. Districts would have flexibility on where they place standards in grades K-2.

" There were too many standards altogether. The total number of math standards was reduced from 479 to 332 and the reading standards dropped from 635 to 447.

" Standards that were too demanding were moved up a grade. For example, an eighth-grade standard that amounted to Algebra I-level work was moved to the ninth grade.

The House of Representatives has shown it supports the repeal of the state's current standards the oft-criticized Profile of Learning. In the Senate, though, a bill authored by Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, offers a starkly different set of standards than the ones proposed by the committee. Kelley said his proposal keeps some of the Profile's best elements, but Pawlenty rejected that approach Monday.

Kelley's proposal amounts to the "Profile of Learning II: The Sequel," Pawlenty said, adding that it essentially rebuilds the Profile, which has been criticized for not being specific enough and not having standards tied to grade levels.

Kelley said he had time only to briefly review the newest version of the committee's academic standards. But he said he preferred his bill, which offers new standards in more subject areas and was less detailed than the agency's proposal.

A deal to kill the Profile and put the new standards in place is unlikely to come before end-of-session negotiations involving both chambers, said Bill Walsh, the education department's communications director. With the package the 80-member committee released Monday, legislators will have something concrete they can work with, he added.

The changes in Monday's proposal also included new media literacy standards. For example, in fifth grade, students must demonstrate the ability to "evaluate the accuracy and credibility of information found on Internet sites," the standards say.

Though many Minnesota districts are embracing full-day kindergarten and some are charging a fee for the service, the movement of some of the kindergarten standards up to first grade shouldn't cause parents concern, said Jayne Ropella, a committee member and the principal of Eastern Heights Elementary School, the site of Monday's news conference announcing the changes.

Beyond the standards, Yecke's plan to the federal government includes a new report card for schools. A star system grants four stars for high-achieving schools down to one star for struggling schools.

No Child Left Behind requires schools to show progress toward moving all students to proficiency, including subgroups of race and income, in an attempt to close the achievement gap that has long plagued American education.

— John Welbes
New school standards are trimmed
Pioneer Press
April 15, 2003


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