District 16 reacts to new school accountability system

Goodbye failing school labels and sanctions. Hello awards and priority schools.

Spring Lake Park District 16 schools are among the 333 public school districts statewide poised to benefit from the state having received a waiver in February from the national No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act requirements. So far, 11 states nationwide have been granted a waiver, according to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).

Under the waiver, a phoenix of student and school performance measurements has evolved giving rise to a new accountability system.

“The new model appears to provide a more comprehensive view of school improvement,” said District 16 Superintendent Jeff Ronneberg. “It provides a more balanced approach to measuring school and district progress.”

Rather than being named on what to some schools had become the NCLB dreaded Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) list, the new system under the waiver has been dubbed the Multiple Measurement Ratings (MMR). Scores are still based on AYP results, but there is no failing schools list. And students are rated on a longer period of performance.

The MDE released the new MMR scores to the public May 22.

The system is intended to come up with a fairer way to monitor school performance.

“The over-arching goal of the new measurement system and Minnesota’s waiver is to dramatically improve the disparity in academic performance between students of color and in poverty and their white counterparts, often called the ‘achievement gap,’” according to the Minnesota Department of Education.

Of the nearly 2,200 schools in the state, about 1,600 received MMR ratings, according to Keith Hovis, deputy communications director for MDE.

New rating system

Under the NCLB requirements, all students are to reach proficiency by 2014. Proficiency results are based on students making AYP with standards set by individual states. Minnesota student test scores are based on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA). But as of last spring, half of what was then 2,225 schools in the state landed on the list for not making AYP.

That meant the schools needed to come up with an improvement plan and corrective action. Sanctions for repeatedly landing on the list could range from offering students a transfer to another school within the district, to the district paying for private tutors and, in a worse case scenario, to a restructuring of the school.

Under the new system, schools receive an MMR rating and a focus rating. Both ratings are based on two-years of test scores rather than a single year under the NCLB ratings.

The MMR measure performance in four categories; proficiency, growth rate, progress in closing achievement gaps and graduation rate.

All schools will receive a rating (an average of the four categories) based on a 0 percent to 100 percent range, with 50 percent being about an average score (unlike a grading scale in which 50 percent would be, in most cases, considered a failing grade), according to the MDE.

The focus rating zeroes in on achievement gap results. It is a secondary measurement within the MMR, which measures schools on the performance of student subgroups exhibiting a statistical achievement gap in Minnesota. The focus rating measures proficiency and growth of minority students and students receiving such special services as English learners, special education and free and reduced lunches.

The focus rating combines achievement gap reduction and focused proficiency.

Minnesota has one of the nation’s largest achievement gaps in the country. It is state officials’ hope that the new system will close Minnesota’s student achievement gap by half within six years, according to an MDE statement.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Denise Waalen, District 16’s director of educational services.

May 22, MDE released the following scores under the new rating system.

Spring Lake Park District 16 results are as follows:

SLP Multiple Measure Ratings

Spring Lake Park High School: 2010, 64.40 percent; 2011, 61.09 percent for an MMR of 62.74 percent. Westwood Middle School: 2010, 40.72 percent; 2011, 59.15 percent for an MMR of 49.93 percent. Westwood Intermediate School: 2010, 40.23 percent; 2011, 73.76 percent for an MMR of 56.99 percent. Learning Alternatives Community School: 2010, 87.60 percent; 2011, 84.69 percent for an MMR of 86.14 percent. Learning Alternatives Middle School: 2010, 83.57 percent; 2011, 68. 17 percent for an MMR of 75.87 percent. The elementary schools did not receive ratings this year.

SLP Focus Ratings

Spring Lake Park High School: 46.11 percent; Westwood Middle School, 59.60 percent; Westwood Intermediate School,61.17 percent; Learning Alternatives Community School, NA (didn’t have enough students in one or more of its subgroups to count for rating purposes); Learning Alternatives Middle School, 75.75 percent.

State Title I Schools

In addition to the MMR system, three designations will be given to those schools receiving Title I federal funding based on the number of students on free and reduced lunches. They are:

• Reward schools – the top 15 percent of Title I schools in the state.

•Focus schools – the top 10 percent of Title I schools making the greatest gains to close the state’s achievement gap.

•Priority schools – the 5 percent of Title I schools with the most persistently low performance in the state.

In the first release of scores under the waiver, the state named 128 reward schools, 85 focus schools and 42 priority schools for Title I schools.

Spring Lake Parks schools did not receive a reward, focus or priority school designation.

Reward schools 

Reward schools will be recognized for their good work and their successful education methods will be shared among state schools. They will be recognized annually.

Still, Ronneberg said the new accountability method is limiting.

“For example, our K-3 schools do not even receive an MMR rating, which is unfortunate because they are getting great results,” Ronneberg said.

But the MMR growth rate is based on two years of student performance. K-3 schools don’t receive a rating under the new accountability system because there’s not enough testing data to measure, said MDE deputy communications director Hovis.

“There needs to be two years of data,” he said, adding that students start AYP testing in third grade.

Woodcrest, a K-3 school which receives Title I funding, most likely would have been designated a reward school had it qualified under the new system, Waalen said.

Woodcrest recently learned it has been selected for a Minnesota Academic Excellence Foundation School Spotlight Award, focused on closing the achievement gap.

In spite of not recognizing K-3 Title I schools, the system has its merits.

“It (the MMR system) really looks at multiple measures instead of looking at just one to determine performance,” Waalen said.

For example one of the four measures is student growth. If a student transfers into the district and is behind, he or she might do a great job in catching up. MMR reflects the students’ growth, Waalen said.

“In the past, (under NCLB measures) we were unable to do that,” she said.

More data yields better results, Waalen said.

Focus schools

Focus schools along with their districts will develop an improvement plan addressing poor performance either within a subgroup, such as American Indians, English Learners or Blacks, for example, or in graduation rates. Focus schools will be identified once every three years.

Turn-around plans will vary among schools and will be unique in addressing a school’s specific needs.

Priority schools

Priority schools will receive the help of MDE and a newly created Regional Centers of Excellence. Together, they will develop a turn-around plan based on federal principles. Priority schools will have a chance to be removed from the list in 2013, providing they are no longer performing at the bottom 25 percent of Title I schools. Priority schools will be identified every three years.

Under the new guidelines, MDE must release MMR results and designate the first round of Title I priority, focus and reward schools before the end of the school year.

Data from this year’s testing will be used in further MMR results to be released later this summer.

For more information visit http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/Welcome?AdvBCT/NCLBWaiver/index.html.

Elyse Kaner is at elyse.kaner@ecm-inc.com

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