Commissioner Cassellius is optimistic; Supt. Weber not so much
By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) released this past week the Multiple Measurement Ratings (MMR) accountability results for schools in the state.
Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said schools are beginning to bend the curve in the right direction. “Minnesota’s achievement gaps are still unacceptably large, but I believe the new accountability measures we’ve put in place, along with our new focus on closing those gaps and improving outcomes for every student, will continue to accelerate the gains we see today.”
Cassellius said the benefits of the new MMR system is more precise as it gives information on how all students are doing and where improvements efforts should be focused.
“With today’s ratings, schools now have three years of growth data to look at, analyze and utilize as they strive to put in place strategies to ensure every single child learns, thrives and succeeds,” Callellius said.
Last spring, the MDE applied for a waiver to the guidelines of No Child Left Behind legislation. That shifted the focus of accountability for Minnesota Schools from a single high-stakes test to multiple measurements that emphasized student growth and performance.
Four measurements were used to compute two different ratings and determine accountability designations and recognitions for Title 1 schools. One is the Multiple Measures Rating which includes proficiency, growth, achievement gap reduction and graduation. The Focus Rating looks at focused proficiency and achievement gap reduction.
In proficiency, the goal in 2012 was to reduce the number of non-proficient students by 50 percent in six years. All schools were measured on student growth. The schools also placed a priority on increasing growth in subgroups, such as non-English speaking students or students receiving free and reduced meals, to catch up.
Schools which perform within the bottom 25 percent statewide are ranked as Priority Schools if in the bottom 5 percent on MMR, Focus Schools if in the bottom 10 percent of Focus Ratings and Continuous Improvement Schools on the bottom 25 percent on MMR.
Schools may exit Priority or Focus status if they become a Reward school beginning in 2013 or shore above the 25 Percentile in 2013 or 2014.
“The district’s overall results on the accountability tests in math and reading hover just below the state average,” said Little Falls Supt. Stephen Jones. “We have been primarily focusing on improving reading scores and are seeing results as the scores improved over last year. As planned, the district will increase its efforts this year on aligning math instruction to state standards.
“Although we will always continue to work for improvement, our graduation test measurements continue to be encouraging. The results are the highest in the district’s history with 91.6 percent passing,” he said.
High School Principal Ryan Luft from the Staples Motley Schools said, “We are very pleased with the progress our students have been making towards achieving their goals. The district has seen significant growth in many areas, but know we have a ways to go and are excited for the challenge. The Staples Motley High School staff is committed to every student and eager to help them grow academically and as individuals.”
Pierz Supt. George Weber isn’t sure the tests will identify specific areas for improvement.
“The MMRs are only in their first year, but my initial analysis is that the manner in which the state puts 25 percent of the value to certain areas will result in very large swings from year to year for all of our schools, which really will not tell us much about what specific areas we need to improve upon,” he said.
“We are evaluating the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment results from all students, using the scores and strands from the test. This new MMR system does not provide significant additional help that we do not already have from the actual scores themselves,” Weber said.
He feels there are reasons why the new ranking system needs to be read with caution.
“First, the new MMR model only gives 25 percent of the weight (the state calls this Proficiency) to the actual test performance. Then it gives another 25 percent (the state calls this Growth) of the weight to how much improvement students did compared to last year, regardless of how poor or well the child performed the year before. That can be misleading because in certain cases there is little room for growth, especially on a test that is mostly multiple choice and not designed to truly measure a child’s problem solving capacity or potential creativity. A student can have poor growth yet have excellent scores, only because they did well the year before — and vice versa,” he said.
Weber said the test gives another 25 percent of the weight to what the state calls Achievement Gap which is how certain student sub-groups did compared to the overall scores.
“There are inherent significant flaws in that model, in particular as it applies to smaller school districts,” he said.
“Second, if we have small populations of these certain cell sizes such as American Indian, Asian, etc., the results of those students will have a disproportionate impact on the overall ranking because a full 25 percent is applied to a potentially small sector of the population,” he said.
Weber said the district knew it had a good testing year in 2012, once administration saw the results. In particular, the math scores exceeded the state’s average and the total scores at Pioneer Elementary School were exceptional. “As it turns out, we learned Pioneer is actually named a Reward school under the MMR ranking system,” he said.
“We are thankful for that recognition, but it might be difficult to repeat that honor next year simply because of the disproportionate weight placed on Growth and Achievement Gap in the new ranking system,” Weber said in conclusion.
Royalton Supt. Jon Ellerbusch said a school may drop from the top to the bottom in one year, because the test scores are that volatile.
“If there is not a huge achievement gap to begin with, such as Royalton has between the students who pay full price for meals and the free and reduced students, the scores attributed to closing that gap will be low,” he said. “Those points are 25 percent of the rating.”
The Holdingford Elementary School was rated a Reward School, a school in the top 15 percent on the MMR. In the Little Falls District, Lincoln Elementary was rated as needing continuous improvement, while Lindbergh and Dr. S.G. Knight elementary schools were rated as Celebration Eligible, which are rated between 60 percent and 85 percent on the MMR.
Pioneer Elementary in Pierz was rated a Reward School. In the Staples Motley District, the Motley Elementary School was rated as needing continuous improvement and the middle school was rated as Celebration Eligible.
The schools not listed were given no designation by the MDE. This is due to not being a Title 1 school or not being in the top or bottom 25 percent.