Duluth, Proctor schools need to make big changes

/ 23 May 2012 / jennifer

Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune, May 23, 2012 –

Under new student-achievement ratings released by the Minnesota Department of Education on Tuesday, four area schools got low grades that will require them to make major changes.

New Minnesota school ratings

Laura MacArthur Elementary School in Duluth and Bay View Elementary School in Proctor are both designated “priority” schools, while Piedmont Elementary School and Morgan Park Middle School in Duluth are designated “focus” schools.

That means each school must work with its district and the state Education Department on plans for improvement.

Duluth Superintendent Bill Gronseth said intervention work began nearly two years ago on the three designated Duluth schools, but now even more resources will be aimed at them. He’s hopeful that 2012 scores will show improvements from that work.

Duluth officials already have additional plans in mind, including after-school programming tied to school work, to help the designated schools, Gronseth said.

“I feel like we have more support and access to the people at MDE to really talk about what kinds of plans are going to be most successful in our schools,” he said.

On the other end of the spectrum, three area elementary schools were named “reward” schools.

Esko’s Winterquist Elementary, Wrenshall Elementary and Silver Bay’s William Kelley Elementary are included in the top 15 percent of low-income schools in the state for achievement.

The department released new ratings that use a variety of measures of student achievement, which state officials say are more accurate gauges of school performance than the controversial No Child Left Behind law. The state was granted a waiver from the federal law’s mandates, such as having 100 percent of students proficient in reading and math by 2014.

One of the main goals of the state’s new accountability system is to narrow the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

Minnesota has some of the highest ACT scores in the country, but also one of the biggest achievement gaps, said Sam Kramer, who works with federal programs for the state education department.

Low-income schools — those that receive federal Title I money — are the only schools that receive a designation under the new system. Focus schools are the 10 percent of Title I schools most responsible for the state’s achievement gap. Priority schools are the bottom 5 percent of low-performing Title I schools.

The new system takes into account school performance in these categories: proficiency in reading and math, academic growth, achievement gap reduction and, in the case of high schools, their graduation rates.

Another measure, the focus rating, gauges proficiency and academic growth of minority students and those receiving special services, such as special education students and those receiving free or reduced-price lunch.

Focus and priority schools must make changes, but they have more freedom in how they do it than in the past. Schools that repeatedly fail to make progress will no longer have to pay for tutoring or busing to other schools, as they did under No Child Left Behind.

Reward schools, on the other hand, are examples for other schools to study and learn from.

The new ratings are based on testing data from the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years that has been packaged in a different way, Kramer said.

“The achievement gap-reduction measurement is completely new,” he said, and growth scores are broken down in a deeper way.

Dramatic progress

Tuesday’s data shows several Duluth schools made dramatic progress in some areas. Nettleton and Lester Park elementary schools are in the top 25 percent of schools in the state for showing academic growth; Homecroft is in the top 10 percent and Congdon Park in the top 5 percent. Both Nettleton and Homecroft also did well reducing their achievement gaps, and both Duluth high schools are among the top 1 percent in the state for graduation rates.

Nettleton has consistently showed improvements through testing data but not enough to make adequate yearly progress. Principal Stephanie Heilig was pleased the school is finally being recognized for the work the teachers do, she said.

“The majority of our kids make growth each year,” she said. “In reducing the achievement gap, we’re not close to where we want to be, but we have been consistently reducing it.”

She said Nettleton teachers have individual learning plans for students not making adequate progress, which are shared with families and reviewed each month. Nettleton is made up of 53 percent students of color and 83 percent students in poverty. The cut-off mark to being named a focus school is 34.44 percent, and Nettleton scored nearly 62 percent.

Proctor Superintendent John Engelking said he looks forward to working with the state on increasing academic growth at Bay View. The district wasn’t aware of academic and achievement gap issues at Bay View Elementary, he said, and now teachers and administrators can work on them.

“Instead of districts being labeled a failure, this will ensure we look forward to closing those gaps in achievement and increasing student growth,” Engelking said.

The 70 percent

Proctor High School and most area high schools did well with the new ratings — including Cloquet and East with the highest numbers. Only Wrenshall and Central high schools had low ratings for both measurements.

Schools that received no designation — the situation for 70 percent of the state’s public schools — can use their individual data to make improvements, several local district leaders said.

Harbor City International School Executive Director John Haire has already broken down data for his school, which showed growth under the new system in reading and math.

“Our future target is becoming a reward school,” he said, as the ratings were only a couple of percentage points away from that goal for the low-income school.

Esko Superintendent Aaron Fisher said he wasn’t sure where Esko schools would fall under the new measurements because he hadn’t seen much data on academic growth. He was happy to see the elementary school gain reward status.

“I am very excited for our kids,” he said. “They are on their way to having a lot of success academically.”

Lake Superior school district Superintendent Phil Minkkinen said the teachers and principal at William Kelley Elementary have worked hard in recent years to raise achievement.

“I am very pleased,” he said, about the reward status of the school.

Adequate yearly progress will still be reported this summer when 2012 multiple measurement system scores are released, because it’s required by state law and it offers another measure of achievement, Kramer said. Minnesota now has a No Child Left Behind goal of reducing the achievement gap by half in six years in lieu of the 100 percent proficiency goal.