Tens of thousands of Minnesota students finished their annual battery of standardized tests last week. But as testing contractors and administrators start to compile the results, there's a new battle over how to report them.
A school bill just passed by both the House and Senate calls on the state to come up with a new measure of how well kids perform.
As things are now, students and schools are compared to a fixed state standard that's meant to get every kid at grade level by 2014. About three out of four students are expected to reach the mark.
It's the kids that don't, who worry Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, who's helping lead the effort to change school ratings.
"Just because your kid doesn't hit standards doesn't mean that your kid's not learning, that he's not making progress in that direction. That's all this does. It gives both sets of information."
School officials say the new rating would also give parents a better idea where a school is going, rather than just a snapshot of where it is.
The new measure would also help put schools and the state on the same page. Parents already hear about a school's relative progress, or lack of it, informally, says Jim Angermeyr, director of research and evaluation for Bloomington Public Schools.
"It tends to be sort of a he-said she-said sort of a debate sometimes, because the state says 'You're not proficient,' and that's all they say. And then the district says yes, but we're growing, and if it's the district saying one thing and the state saying something else, if often times look like either we're not being honest with parents and the public, or we're only trying to present one side of the story, or only present the positive news."
But the idea has gotten a cold reception from Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
The governor has said he doesn't want the DFL-controlled Legislature to start moving around achievement targets for Minnesota kids. Those benchmarks are a signature part of his administration's education policy.
They're also at the core of the controversial federal No Child Left Behind Act, which set the 2014 deadline for all kids to make grade level.
Keeping Minnesota's aspirations high, rather than just comparing kids to their peers, is the way to reach that goal, says deputy education commissioner Chas Anderson.
"We have set academic standards in reading, science, social studies and science. They're high standards. The concern we have with the model that's being proposed is that its going to judge schools based on averages. So you could have a large share of students in a school system that are falling behind, and yet the school is being advertised to the public as doing a good job. We need to be more honest and transparent with the public about how schools are performing."
The changes to the state's report card on schools were inserted into an omnibus school bill on Monday night.
Although House and Senate negotiators have dropped a controversial sex education mandate from the bill, it may still fail. Gov. Pawlenty can't line-item-veto individual provisions in policy bills and has to accept or reject the whole bill.