Schools’ new report cards are in

/ 22 May 2012 / jennifer

Matthew Stolle, Rochester Post-Bulletin, May 22, 2012 –

Minnesota schools are getting their first look at report cards under a brand new system of evaluation.

The new system gives Rochester education leaders both reason to celebrate and points to areas and schools that are in need of improvement.

The new report cards differ in key ways from the old system of evaluating schools under No Child Left Behind. It uses a broader array of measurements in assessing school performance in math and reading. Its focus isn’t as negative. New terminology identifies not only troubled schools but those that are excelling. And far fewer schools are labeled as failing.

“We think it’s going to be a big improvement,” said Sam Kramer, federal education policy specialist for the Minnesota Department of Education. “We think it’s a fairer measurement that better displays the complexities that exist within a school.”

The new system identifies Pinewood Elementary School as among the state’s top-performing Title 1 schools with the designation of “reward school.” Jefferson Elementary School, on the other hand, was given the label “focus school,” identified as among the 10 percent of schools that are the biggest contributors to the state’s achievement gap.

Pinewood and Jefferson were the only Rochester schools to get labels, according to the state. Only Title 1 schools — those that educate a high percentage of at-risk students — are subject to these designations.

School ratings

But all schools are getting what is being called a multiple measurement rating (MMR), a point system that distributes schools equally across a spectrum from 0 to 100 and is being used to designate schools as priority, focus or reward. The better schools perform in four key areas relative to other schools across the state, the higher their rating on the scale.

Those four areas include: proficiency on standardized tests, academic growth from year to year, graduation rates, and the ability to shrink the achievement gap between middle-class white students and minority students. Before, standardized tests were the only yardstick the state used to assess school performance.

The new systems also gives schools a focus rating, separate from the overall rating, that shows how well they are doing in closing the achievement gap in their student populations.

It’s a big change from the old annual yearly progress system that Minnesota successfully sought a waiver from along with nine other state.

New report cards

The new report cards show that Kellogg (84 percent) and Friedell (88 percent), two of the the district’s four middle schools, earned an overall rating above the 80 percent mark. At the elementary school level, Washington (94 percent) and Folwell (82 percent) also earned ratings above 80 percent. So did Lincoln K-8 Choice School at 91 percent.

Schools that received a rating below the 50 percentile were Bamber Valley (49 percent), Elton Hills (49 percent), Gage (31 percent), Longfellow (39 percent), Montessori at Franklin (44 percent) and Riverside Central (21 percent) elementary schools. Golden Hill Education Center scored below 50 percent. No Rochester middle or high schools went below 50 percent.

Previously under NCLB, schools were only evaluated on test scores. That system over the years had ensnared more than half of the state’s schools as failing to make what was known as AYP (annual yearly progress).

By contrast, the state will have a more manageable number of troubled schools to deal with. Only those Title 1 schools at the bottom 5 percent — those deemed as the state’s worst performing schools — received a “priority” designation and only 10 percent a “focus” label that qualifies them for state support.

“These conversations about focus and priority are really difficult for districts, because nobody wants to be on those lists,” Kramer said. “We hope that in the long term, they’ll see that this is a good process for them to go through. They’re going to get access to more support than they’ve ever had from us before.”

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