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County’s schools do better on state report

By Staff | Oct 1, 2018

Where does Blue Earth Area and United?South Central fit in Minnesota’s educational North Star accountability system?

At the end of August, the Minnesota Department of Education (MnDOE) released a new school accountability rating system, and school leaders across the state say they are still working to understand the new system and analyzing their results.

Across Minnesota, 56 percent of students passed the standardized math and reading tests called the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCAs.

According to MnDOE’s data for 2018 school accountability measurements, Blue Earth Area was 47 percent proficient in math, 58 percent proficient in reading, 91 percent of its student population graduated in four years, and 89 percent of students had regular attendance during the 2017-18 school year.

Blue Earth Area Elementary, along with five other schools in the area were identified as schools who are required to develop improvement plans and will have access to resources provided by the state. BEA Elementary was cited as a school that is below the target in math proficiency.

“So, the thing that is kind of confusing is these statistics default to this assessment, and when it does, it uses a three-year average and not necessarily the statistics from just last year,” says BEA’s K-7 assistant principal David Dressler. “Last year, our elementary students were 57 percent proficient in math, so our proficiency was good last year.”

Over 30 school districts were identified to receive additional state resources after landing near the bottom at one or more benchmarks during the last three years. Schools can be put on the list because a small group of students did not meet one of the many targets. Blue Earth Area Elementary was identified in that group.

“We were put on a level one designation, which receives a little bit of extra professional development from the state whereas other schools who would need a greater amount of help would be designated as level two or three,” says Dressler. “We are working on a lot of new programs in the elementary school, like Number Talks, to not only engage our students and their teachers, but encourage that extra development.”

However, BEA had the highest reading improvement score of 2.5, which is a new measurement comparing how each student scored from one year to the next. A rubric awards districts and schools points whenever a student moves up from one status to another, such as from “partially” to “fully” meeting their target, or from “meeting” to “exceeding” the target.

As for United South Central, their school district was 62 percent proficient in math, 64 percent proficient in reading, 83 percent of its students graduated in four years, and 86 percent of their students had regular class attendance.

MnDOE recognized 526 public schools across the state as top performers in multiple areas of progress in school performance as a key part of the state’s new North Star accountability system that aims to create more equitable and well-rounded learning opportunities for all students across the state.

Using data from the five key indicators that make up North Star like achievement and progress on state reading and math tests over time, progress towards English language proficiency, graduation rates and consistent attendance the state is better able to identify and learn from schools that consistently perform at high levels across multiple domains.

Though educators say the new data is telling districts they are moving students in the right direction, they also say understanding the new criteria is quite the learning process.

Data released by the MnDOE also guided the state in prioritizing 485 schools that will receive varying levels of support over the next three years, while another 134 schools will have access to additional training and networking opportunities from MnDOE.

Minnesota’s Department of Education says schools prioritized for comprehensive support will work with the state’s Regional Centers of Excellence, with experts who will work hand-in-hand with school leadership teams to assess the unique challenges and needs facing educators and students in a given building.

Center staff provide specialized support to schools in areas including support to English learners, equity, graduation, implementation, math, reading, and special education.

The new accountability system is touted as a more multifaceted replacement to its predecessor that was controversial because of its focus on test scores.

“For over 20 years, we have relied far too much on test scores as the sole measure of school performance,” says Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. “This misguided approach has resulted in a status quo that has not only skewed the perception of how our schools are doing, but has narrowed and limited opportunities for students to experience a rich and well-rounded education.”

The Department of Education says it is planning to add additional indicators in future years.

Also, this new accountability system does not include an attempt to measure achievement gaps among students from different demographic groups. While the data does break students into groups based on ethnicity and income, it does not compare any group against another.

Stakeholders told developers they opposed the traditional process of comparing minority students to their white peers, with the concern it creates the perception white students are superior.

While these accountability measurements may be just one of many data tools used to help students succeed to their full potential, it comes down to how schools are helping individual students.

In addition to MCAs, Minnesota schools use formative and summative assessments to inform instruction and get a more complete and focused picture about students’ learning, their accomplishments, and their areas of need.

“With North Star, there are a lot of indicators that they look at,” says Dressler. “And those numbers are showing us that our kids and teachers are doing a lot of work and it’s paying off.”