School ratings are no trick — just progress

/ 27 June 2012 / jennifer

Rob Prater, Star Tribune Commentary, June 27, 2012 –

Charlie Weaver was substantially off-target in his criticism of the state educational rankings (“State schools score better — like magic,” June 24).

Weaver claimed that the new system is watered down because not enough schools are “red-flagged,” but he didn’t say why the old system, Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), is better than the new system, which is called Multiple Measurement Rating (MMR). The implication is that if more schools appear to fail, then the system is strong, and if more schools appear successful, the system is weak.

Readers should know a few facts about the systems. AYP measured schools based on a small set of data — the number of third- through eighth-grade students who were proficient in math and reading. The results were not reported as a flat percentage but in a convoluted formula.

A school may have had 80 percent of students at grade level, but if only 50 percent of non-English speakers were proficient, the school was “failing.” The new MMR system uses a larger set of data. The main focus of the data is the achievement gap (the difference between the proficiency levels of white and nonwhite students).

Weaver argued that the achievement gap must be addressed. MMR does, in fact, make the achievement gap central to school rating.

Weaver’s logic was flawed in other areas as well. The MMR does not retreat from accountability. The new system merely makes accountability more comprehensive. Our state needs to demand more responsibility from schools.

Accountability is a buzzword that can be used to take away responsibility. No Child Left Behind is a federal law that infringes on our state’s right to educate our children to Minnesota standards. It takes away a local district’s responsibility to provide the best education possible and replaces it with accountability to a federal mandate.

Weaver went on to make the claim that our state “has determined that competency is no longer important,” and he implied that the MMR will not ensure that “Minnesota high school graduates have certain skills.” This claim calls into question Weaver’s competence on education issues. The AYP measured only reading and math. Reading and math do not equate to competence. They are indeed skills, but they make for a pretty short list.

Business leaders should demand that schools take more responsibility to develop a long list of skills and true competency. The list should include reading, writing, rhetoric, scientific inquiry, civic awareness, geography, problem identification, problem analysis, linguistics, physical fitness, time management and many more.

Competencies are even more important. Our children need to learn leadership, technological literacy, self-discipline, ethics, cultural awareness, self-reflection, teamwork, adaptability, verbal communication and problem-solving.

In the end, our state decided to measure schools in a more thorough rating system. We gave up the narrow and anemic AYP model. Weaver seems to be advocating for the best for our children. I agree with him that the Multiple Measurement Rating is flawed. It is, however, an improvement over the AYP system.

I hope that business leaders will get serious and demand that our schools go back to teaching students what they really need to be successful. Weaver might start by reading, with the members of the Minnesota Business Partnership, some of the lists of what business leaders say they need from prospective employees.

The lists are long on skills and competencies. Reading and math proficiency are nowhere near the top of any of the lists I have read.

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Rob Prater is superintendent of the Hinckley-Finlayson schools.

http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/160602985.html