Department of Education releases MMR and Focus ratings

Commissioner Cassellius is pleased with the results 

By Tina SnellStaff Writer

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) released the 2013 Multiple Measurement Ratings (MMR) Tuesday. Minnesota’s Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius pointed to the data as evidence the state is beginning to bend the curve in closing its achievement disparities.

The 2013 accountability results are based on data from the 2012-13 school year.

“The release is about the hard work taking place every single day in our schools to ensure the success of each child,” Cassellius said. “It is because of the inspiring commitment, dedication and collaboration of teachers, support staff and school leaders that we are seeing improvements in our Priority and Focus schools.”

In spite of that, Cassellius said that some schools saw a lower MMR than the previous year, which corresponds with 2013 MCA results.

In looking at the growth for those schools exiting the Priority and Focus status, Cassellius highlighted their success as important progress toward reaching the state’s goal of closing achievement gaps in half by 2017. Priority and Focus schools throughout Minnesota serve racially and ethnically diverse student populations with high levels of poverty. Priority and Focus school demographics show that 75 percent receive free or reduced-price lunch, 68 percent of those enrolled are minority students, 26 percent are English language learners and 14 percent receive special education services.

The multiple measurements system is used to compute two different ratings which determine designations and recognitions for Title I schools. The MMR rating shows proficiency, growth, achievement gap reduction and graduation rates. Focus Rating (FR) shows focused proficiency and achievement gap reduction.

In the MMR, proficiency targets are based on reducing the number of non-proficient students by 50 percent by 2017. It also considers student-level rowth from year to year. It focusses on increasing growth in various groups to close the gaps between them plus aims to graduate 90 percent of all students.

In the FR, proficiency achievement of traditionally lower-performing groups is looked at. The proficiency targets are based on reducing the number of non-proficient students in each group by 50 percent by 2017. It also focuses on increasing the growth of all groups to close the gaps between them.

Schools which perform in the bottom 25 percent of the schools within their grade grouping (high school, middle school, elementary) are identified as priority schools (bottom 5 percent on the MMR), focus schools (bottom 10 percent on the FR) and continuous improvement (bottom 25 percent on the MMR and not already identified as a priority or focus school).

Schools which perform within the top 40 percent of schools within their group are annually designated as reward schools (top 15 percent on MMR) or celebration eligible (next 25 percent on MMR). Approximately 10 percent of title I schools are selected for celebration school recognition.

In other words, the top 40 percent of schools are given reward or celebration status while the bottom 25 percent receive support.

This year, the state invested $2 million to expand the state’s Regional Centers for Excellence, a key part of MDE’s efforts to offer comprehensive school support. Schools designated as Priority or Focus work with MDE and a Regional Center of Excellence to develop and implement a school improvement plan.

Priority and focus schools are seeing notable growth. In fact, 78 percent of priority schools demonstrated improvement, many by more than 20 percentage points on the MMR. Similarly, 71 percent of focus schools demonstrated growth on the focus rating from the previous year.

Identifying what best practices were utilized in the improvement plans for schools that made substantial gains will be a focus of MDE this coming year. Cassellius will visit these schools, offering administrators and staff the opportunity to share what’s working in their school in order to share their success with other schools across the state.

This year, 131 schools received a “Reward” designation, while 225 schools are classified as “Celebration Eligible.” These groups represent the highest performing of Minnesota’s 853 Title I schools. Of the schools designated as Reward, 79 have received the honor twice, while 20 have been recognized as a top performer all three years.

New Priority and Focus schools were not designated this year. Those schools are identified on a three-year cycle to allow time for new strategies to take hold and for the state to provide concentrated support and resources to those schools strategically identified as having the greatest need. New Priority and Focus schools will be announced in fall of 2014.

Swanville Supt. Gene Harthan, whose elementary school became celebration eligible, said, “Our staff at the elementary has been working very hard at improving our students’ achievement for several years now and it is starting to show results. Two of the biggest factors are the Minnesota Reading Corps program and our Response to Intervention Program. All of our students in grades K-8 are assessed three times a year using the AIMSweb assessment tool. The students that are not performing up to their targets are then pulled out to get help in the specific areas where they need it. A team of staff members meets monthly to review each student’s progress, and if necessary, change the interventions or type of help that the student is getting.

“We are very excited about this news. I am very proud of our staff and students,” he said.

Pierz’ Pioneer Elementary School is also a celebrity eligible school.

“Pioneer Elementary is an excellent school filled with teacher who truly focus on delivering reading skills to children in a very caring environment,” Supt. George Weber said. “We are very proud of the rewards it has received the last few years.

“We have done well for several years in a row on our MCA Assessment tests. The state of Minnesota just changed its whole process for ‘labeling’ schools to this new system called MMR. It’s not just a measure of how well the children performed on the test this year. Only 25 percent of the test has to do with test proficiency. Another 25 percent has to do with the growth from the year before. So, as you continue to consistently score high, it is more difficult to get growth points. Once a school is a Reward School. it is difficult to repeat that the next year,” he said. “Last year we were a Reward School, this year a Celebration School.

“Our bottom line is we love children and love teaching and caring for them,” Weber said. “We will continue to do our best to work with our parents on helping their children reach their greatest potential.”

Principal of Lindbergh Elementary School in Little Falls Jill Griffith-McRaith said it is an honor to be recognized by the Department of Education.

“Three years ago we implemented several changes to our curriculum and the delivery of instruction,” she said. “We started a new K-5 math curriculum that focused on higher level math skills. Teachers received professional development on using the new resources.  The district also restructured the reading block using the Daily 5 framework.  This gives students daily practice in reading, phonics, writing and listening.”

“Several researched based interventions are being used with students that are below grade level in math and/or reading,” Griffith-McRaith said. “Throughout our implementation, teachers have received resources and ongoing professional development to better meet the needs of students.

“I believe one of the biggest factors for our success is the hard work and dedication of teachers and staff who work with students everyday. They have set high expectations for all students and work to ensure each and every one of them is successful.  Each day I am truly amazed at what is happening in the building as these professionals work with kids. They are the people who have done the work.”