Three local schools among top state rankings

/ 25 May 2012 / jennifer

Jeff Papas, Carlton County Pine Journal, May 25, 2012 –

Esko’s Winterquist Elementary School, Wrenshall Elementary School and Cromwell-Wright Elementary School all received “reward” status from the state in rankings from a new system known as “MMR.”

Three Carlton County school districts got happy news this week when the Minnesota Department of Education issued new student achievement ratings.

Esko’s Winterquist Elementary School, Wrenshall Elementary School and Cromwell-Wright Elementary School all received “reward” status from the state in rankings from a new system known as “MMR.”

That stands for “Multiple Measurement Ratings,” and is designed to replace a rating system produced by the controversial federal “No Child Left Behind” Act. (The state was granted a waiver from the federal law’s mandates, such as having 100 percent of its students proficient in reading and math by 2014.)

“Reward” schools rank among the top 15 percent in the state in overall student measurements and in reducing the “achievement gap” between Caucasian students and students in other ethnic classifications.

The goal of the program is to more accurately portray student achievement on an ongoing basis.

“We are proud of our kids,” Esko School Superintendent Aaron Fischer said. “Knowing there are multiple measures, we are happy, but we didn’t know how we would fit into the new classifications. Obviously [no matter what the testing method], it’s important that all kids are successful.”

Low-income schools – those that receive federal Title I, or poverty, funding – are the only schools that receive a designation under the new system, which 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.

There were 127 “reward” schools in the state. Wrenshall Elementary received the top scores in the county and ranked 51st in the state in achievement gap reduction among Title I schools. A total of 847 Minnesota schools received rankings, though not all receive Title I designation.

All three local “reward” schools scored over 80 percent in achievement gap reduction (see table on page A4).

Conversely, the bottom 5 percent of schools receive “priority” ratings and the bottom 10 percent after that receive “focus” ratings. Focus and priority schools must make changes, but they have more freedom in doing that than in the past. Schools that repeatedly fail to make progress will not have to pay for tutoring or busing to other schools. Reward schools, on the other hand, are examples for other schools to study and learn from.

No Carlton County school was in the “priority” or “focus” groups, though three Duluth public schools received such ratings. There were 85 “focus” schools and 42 “priority” schools in the state’s figures.

The “reward” schools now face a new challenge – maintaining their high standards in the next round of testing.

“Regardless of our ranking, our goal is always to improve,” Winterquist Elementary Principal Brian Harker said. His school has 642 students in grades K-6.

“We’re always looking to better ourselves and the data we are collecting shows our focus on internal growth is correct,” Harker added. “We have a great group of dedicated staff and we look at how to help each individual student grow.”

The Department of Education also plans to release two more classifications this fall: “celebration” schools, which are the 10 percent of schools below “reward” schools, and “continuous improvement schools,” which are the bottom 25 percent of achievement gap schools in the state.

Jana Hollingsworth of the Duluth News Tribune contributed to this story.