Local schools receive no special designations

/ 22 May 2012 / jennifer

Kremena Spengler, New Ulm Journal, May 22, 2012 –

Rank among the majority 70 percent in new state rankings

NEW ULM – Local schools earned between 36 and 62 percent of all available points under a complex new rating system released by the state Department of Education today.

The New Ulm High School earned a Multiple Measurements Rating (MMR) of approximately 62 percent, and a Focus Rating (FR) of also approximately 62 percent.

Washington Elementary School earned an MMR rating of approximately 36 percent, and an FR rating of approximately 47 percent.

Jefferson Elementary School wasn’t rated, because of its grade configuration.

For comparison purposes, to be rated among the top 15 percent of Title I schools in the state, an elementary school needed an MMR rating of at least 73 percent, a middle school needed 79 percent, and a high school 76 percent.

Title I schools receive federal Title I funds. The Title I program seeks to increase math and reading skills for students in regular education who are at risk of falling behind peers.

Of New Ulm’s schools, only Jefferson, which was not rated, is a Title I school and would have been in the running for this designation.

The new state school accountability system is a result of Minnesota receiving a waiver from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The waiver shifted the focus of school efforts from seeking universal student proficiency in core subjects by 2014, to dramatically narrowing the achievement gap between students of color and in poverty, and their white counterparts.

In general terms, the new ratings are based on how well each school met targets in four categories: academic proficiency, student academic growth, progress in closing the achievement gap, and graduation rate (see sidebar). Each of these categories is given a specific weight. The ratings are based on data collected over two years, 2010 and 2011. The system also relies on weighting data based on the size of student subgroups.

The MMR rating is the more general, or “holistic” rating, explained education officials.

The FR rating is more specific: it zeros in on proficiency and growth among minority students and also students receiving special services (free and reduced lunches, special education, English language learners).

Elementary schools which are only K-3 (such as New Ulm’s Jefferson School) do not receive a rating because the growth factor is not tracked until fourth grade. By then, third-graders have left the school. However, other relevant data for is available for K-3 schools.

“With this new accountability system, we’ll be able to better assess how our schools are really doing, and put in place structures and resources to support their efforts,” said Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius.

“Rather than relying on a failed system that doled out punitive labels and didn’t tell the whole story about schools, today we’re recognizing our high performing schools and making a commitment to stand beside those schools most in need.”

Reward, focus, priority

The ratings also include three designations: “reward,” “focus” and “priority” schools. The “reward” rating pegs high achieving schools, while the “focus” and “priority” ratings refer to those in need of improvement. The designations are applicable only to schools with Title I programs.

MMR ratings are used to “label” schools as “reward” and “priority.” The FR rating is used to assign schools as “focus.”

“Reward” schools are the highest-performing 15 percent of Title I schools in the state. The state named 127 schools in this category. Area schools in this group include: Kennedy, Monroe, Rosa Parks and Washington Elementary Schools, all in Mankato; Springfield Elementary; Nicollet Elementary; Milroy Elementary; Wabasso Secondary; Gaylord Elementary (Sibley East District); GFW Elementary; and Hilltop Elementary (Le Sueur Henderson District).

“Priority” schools are the five percent most-persistently low-performing Title I schools in the state. Forty-two schools received this designation. Among area schools, St. James Northside Elementary received this designation.

“Focus” schools are the 10 percent of Title I schools making the biggest contribution to the state’s achievement gap. Eighty-five schools received this designation. No area schools were designated as “focus.”

Under the new system, schools designated as “reward” will be recognized for their work, said Department of Education officials. The Department of Education will look to share any best practices taking place in their classrooms with other schools across the state.

Schools designated as “priority” will receive support from the Department of Education and newly-created Regional Centers of Excellence to develop a school turnaround plan, said the officials. These schools will have the opportunity to exit the list in 2013 if they are no longer in the bottom 25 percent of Title I schools. Turnaround plans will vary from school to school.

Similarly, schools designated as “focus” will work with their district to develop a school improvement plan that directly addresses poor performance either within a subgroup, or in graduation rates.

Starting this August, two additional categories will differentiate among the remaining 70 percent of the state’s schools, to which New Ulm schools belong. They are “celebration” schools (the next 10 percent) and “continuous improvement schools (the bottom 25 percent).

When contacted about local results, Superintendent Harold Remme said:

“It appears we are not in any one of the three categories, which is a good thing, in a sense. Obviously, we’d like to be in the ‘reward’ category, but it is pretty narrow group of schools.”

On the positive side, Remme said, “we were able to improve the percentage of students meeting proficiency, growth and achievement-gap targets at the high school and those meeting proficiency targets at Washington.”

(Graduations-rate targets have never been in question.)

On the negative side, Remme said, “we slipped on growth and narrowing the achievement gap at Washington.”

Remme qualified he has not yet fully analyzed the new data.

He added it will be studied and used in developing a strategy for further instructional improvement.