How Do We Measure A School Now? Let Us Count The Ways

/ 21 May 2012 / jennifer

James Warden, Southwest Minneapolis Patch, May 21, 2012 –

Schools will be graded in new ways because of Minnesota’s exemption from the No Child Left Behind law.

If you thought the old system of tests and reports used to evaluate Minneapolis’ public schools was confusing, just wait until you see the system state education officials are rolling out Monday.

Minnesota requested a waiver from No Child Left Behind last year, laying out a plan in its place to reduce the achievement gap over the next six years. President Barack Obama announced Feb. 9 that Minnesota would be one of 10 states to recieve a waiver from the federal education law.

Here’s a look at those details.

What won’t change

Academic standards

Public reporting

The tests: Students will still be tested, and the state will continue to use the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments.

Adequate Yearly Progress: The be-all, end-all measurement of the former No Child Left Behind system is still around; it just doesn’t have the single-focus prominence it once did. More on that later.

What will change

Let go of AYP, embrace MMR

The new system gives all schools a score called a “Multiple Measure Rating”—pretty much guaranteed to dominate school accountability conversations in the way adequate yearly progress has to this point. There are four components to this rating:

  • Proficiency: Incorporates the existing adequate yearly progress measurement, with results broken down into different student subgroups.
  • Student growth: Measures how much schools helped students improve from one year to the next.
  • Achievement gap closure: Measures the ability of schools to coax faster growth from traditionally underperforming subgroups by comparing the growth of the lower-performing groups at a school to the statewide average for higher-performing subgroups. For example, students of color would be compared to white students or students receiving free and reduced lunches would be compared to those who are not receiving them.
  • Graduation rate: Currently aims for an 85 percent graduation rate, although the targets are changing next year.

Each one of these categories is worth 25 points. Most elementary and middle schools will be able to get a maximum of 75 points. Most high schools will be able to get a maximum of 100 points. The “MMR” will be the percentage of points a school gets out of the maximum.

Feel-good labels

Throughout the history of No Child Left Behind, educators chaffed at the way it labeled schools as “failing” when they didn’t meet proficiency targets. Well, no more. The waiver system creates a handful of categories—some good, some bad, none overtly critical. The categories only apply to so-called “Title I schools,” which have higher concentrations of students receiving free and reduced lunch. Many Minneapolis schools recieve this money, designed to help schools pay for additional support services to help academically troubled students catch up. The categories are:

  • Reward schools: The top 15 percent of Title I schools.
  • Celebration schools: The next 25 percent of Title I schools may apply to be designated a celebration school. Of those that apply, 10 percent will actually be selected as celebration schools. Schools don’t yet know what the application will involve or what they’ll be asked.
  • Continuous improvement schools: The bottom 25 percent of Title I schools will receive this designation.
  • Priority schools: The bottom 5 percent of Title I schools will receive this designation. It nests within the continuous improvement designation.
  • Focus schools: This designation will go to 10 percent of schools in “the middle” that have “extreme achievement gaps.” It’s not clear yet what exactly “the middle” means.

It’s also not clear what these categories will actually mean for schools. The worst-performing schools may need to submit lengthier reports, but there’s no money attached to the designations.

New messages to communicate

In the past, No Child Left Behind requirements meant districts often had to kick off the school year with the morale-sucking practice of notifying parents that their children’s schools didn’t meet AYP targets.

That’s not going to happen under the new waiver system.

Yet districts will have to educate parents on a whole new vocabulary of school accountability. There are MMRs and AYPs. There are priority schools and reward schools. And—perhaps most confusing of all to the public—there will be many schools in the middle that don’t have any designation.