New Minn. schools performance ranking to be released today

School halls
Students move between classes at Floodwood School in Floodwood, Minn. As part of a report being released from the state Department of Education, the data will identify which schools will need to make improvements and mark a shift in how the performance of Minnesota students and their schools are measured.
Derek Montgomery for MPR

Detailed information released today will show Minnesota educators how students are performing academically, as well as ranking the state's public schools on several measures.

As part of a report being released from the state Department of Education, the data will identify which schools need to make improvements and mark a shift in how the performance of Minnesota students and their schools are measured.

Called Multiple Measurement Ratings, or MMR, it represents the alternative that state officials presented to the U.S. Department of Education when they asked to opt out of the requirements of No Child Left Behind.

Teachers are given specific data on each student. They find out how an individual performed on standardized tests last year, whether he or she improved over the course of the year, and how much that student should be expected to learn in the coming year.

That's information teachers can use to create specific educational plans for each of their students, according to Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota's commissioner of education.

"Even though we still are using standardized testing, we are dicing that information and data in different ways that gives better and more immediate results to teachers," Cassellius said.

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The department also uses the collective scores for each school in its ranking system. It will replace the accountability provisions in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Under that system, the focus was purely on test scores. If students were not proficient in reading and math, the school was labeled as failing. Almost half of Minnesota schools were considered failing under the system.

The new system still considers student test scores, but also takes into consideration how much students have improved over the year and how well poor and minority students perform at a school.

It also changes the labels. No longer are the poorest performing schools considered failing. Those are now labeled "Priority" schools. Schools where a large achievement gap exists between white students and students of color are called "Focus" schools. Schools making improvements, but where students aren't yet proficient, are called "Continuous Improvement" schools. The highest performers are "Celebration Eligible" and "Reward" schools.

Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, likes the change.

"The accountability is still very much there, but I think we're going to a better job of putting more appropriate labels on schools and drawing some attention to some of the positive progress that is made," Croonquist said.

Under the new system, schools that rank in the bottom 25 percentile, the Focus, Priority and Continuous Improvement schools, are required to work with the state on plans to improve their students' performance.

That's just 204 schools under the new ranking system. Under No Child Left Behind there were more than 1,000.

That has the Minnesota Business Partnership concerned.

"With the MMR all those schools that No Child Left Behind used to identify and require them to go through a school improvement process, that requirement is no longer there," said Jim Bartholomew, the group's educational policy director.

State education officials say the new system allows them to have a closer partnership with schools that need the most help.

Two elementary schools in Willmar rank low enough to require an improvement plan under the new system.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard calls that a wake-up call.

"We need to get better. It was a hit over the head, 'You're not as good as you think you are,'" Kjergaard said.

He says in an effort to improve student performance, the district will adjust its curriculum and better train and coach teachers.

"They are going be better teachers this year than they were last year and hopefully the year thereafter they'll be better yet," Kjergaard said. "It's making us take a look at how it is that we teach. And what our requirements are and what the rigor is like."

Keergard hopes that with help students in the two low-ranking Willmar schools will show enough improvement in coming years to move up in the ranking of Minnesota schools.