The new rating system employed by the state of Minnesota to evaluate schools has issued its results, and by all early indications Forest Lake Area Schools received positive marks.
No school in the Forest Lake district fell under the categories of Priority Schools or Focus Schools, which indicates a school that is struggling. But one school – Forest View Elementary – was listed as a Reward School, indicating achievement in the top 15 percent of all Title I schools in the state.
Under the new system – as with the previous system – student scores from the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) test are used as the basis by which schools are rated, but the way those scores are applied in terms of evaluating schools is different.
The previous system, which required schools and school districts to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), has been modified and has been incorporated into a new system known as the Multiple Measurement Rating (MMR).
While the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act still remains in place, several states – including Minnesota – have received waivers from the U.S. Dept. of Education that allows a state to avoid the penalties and sanctions associated with NCLB and to establish a new system to evaluate schools.
The new MMR is different in that it adds other criteria by which schools are measured, including: growth in student learning, graduation rate and success in narrowing the “achievement gap.”
The achievement gap refers to the tendency for proficiency scores by students in certain racial and ethnic groups to be lower than those by their Caucasian counterparts. The achievement gap varies from school to school and state to state, and while Minnesota’s overall proficiency numbers tend to be very high, the state also has one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation.
The new system also employs a 0 – 100 rating system, rather than the previous “all or nothing” approach inherent in AYP results. Under the AYP system, a given school could have been extremely successful in student achievement for 17 of the 18 measured groups, but failure to score high enough in even one group could put the school on the “needs improvement list.” Under that system, roughly half of all Minnesota schools were on that list in any given year.
The new system rates schools on a continuum, but schools can still be designated for certain lists. These new lists include: Priority Schools, Focus Schools and Reward Schools. As with the old system, under MMR these designations only apply to “Title I schools,” or schools that receive Title I funding from the federal government.
Priority Schools are those that score – according to the new MMR formula – in the bottom 5 percent of all Title I schools in the state, and Focus Schools are the 10 percent of all Title I schools that have the worst achievement gaps. In the new system, these designations are both indicators of a school that is struggling.
On the other side of the spectrum, Reward Schools are those schools which, according to the new standards, perform very well and are listed among the top 15 percent of all Title I schools in terms of proficiency scoring.
In the Forest Lake district, no schools were designed as Priority or Focus, but Forest View Elementary received the Reward Schools designation.
Forest Lake High School, Columbus Elementary and Scandia Elementary each scored high enough to have been deemed a Reward School if they had been a Title I school.
“We are certainly happy that Forest View was named a Reward School,” said Superintendent Linda Madsen. “Forest View has a long tradition as a very successful elementary school, and the fact that it has twice been named a Minnesota School of Excellence is certainly testament to that.”
But Madsen also cautioned against jumping to any major conclusions based on the new system, which in many ways is still in the early stages of development.
“At this point it’s difficult to determine how all schools across the state measure up against each other under this new system,” Madsen explained.
“It may be several months before the assessment coordinators in each school district are able to get a firm handle on what the results actually mean in terms of what a particular school’s strengths and weaknesses are in terms of student achievement.
Madsen explained that the AYP system had some good points, and schools did make some positive changes as a result. But overall, she said, there were many problems with it.
“Under AYP, some very good schools were being labeled as failing, and that’s unfortunate,” she said.
“When half of Minnesota’s schools are labeled as struggling – and we know historically that Minnesota is one of the most successful schools in the nation in academic achievement – there’s clearly an issue with the methods being used to evaluate them. I am hopeful that the MMR will provide us with better data presented in a more constructive way that will really help those schools that are truly struggling to do better, to raise the bar and to address the achievement gap.”
The overall results for Forest Lake Area Schools are available on the district website at http://www.flaschools.org, and also on the Minnesota Department of Education’s website at http://education.state.mn.us.