The most significant development on a recent report that many schools in Minnesota are meeting their goals of reducing the achievement gap between different demographic student groups can be found in the words of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.
“For the first time, we have concrete goals around gaps, and are letting our school leaders know exactly how far they need to go to be fully on track to close these gaps,” she told the Star Tribune.
The tracking of the achievement gap is the first step to solving the problem. And Minnesota is now tracking it, as Cassellius says “for the first time.” We’ve also set “concrete goals” for the first time and are also holding school leaders accountable for reaching their goals.
We suspect this is the kind of accountability taxpayers want. It’s the kind of accountability parents and student deserve. We’re also measuring school performance in a way that doesn’t involve measuring spending first.
While many Mankato area school districts met their goals for how far along they should be in reducing local achievement gaps, we shouldn’t rest easy. The goal is reducing the achievement gap by 50 percent by 2017, still nearly three years away. And by reducing the achievement gap by 50 percent, it’s only a half-way point to eliminating the achievement gap.
The Department of Education tracks the progress each school district has made and tells them exactly how many students fell short of the goals in reading and math. The achievement gap is measured for white and non-white students and various ethnicities, but also income categories such as those students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunch.
Schools seem to have a handle on strategies working to reduce the gap. For some, the curriculum can be adjusted to fit the different ways different students learn. For others there is a real emphasis on teacher commitment to the goals and re-thinking teaching strategies.
Some stakeholders still question the rigor of the system of evaluation. Some of those questions are legitimate.
We hope the curriculum isn’t being “dumbed down” to help students meet state imposed goals. Academic standards really shouldn’t be changed to help students meet achievement gaps. Student success at achieving the standards should be the focus.
And overall, there’s still much work to do. Statewide only 40 percent of school districts met their 2013 goal of having every group proficient in math. In reading, 43 percent of schools district met their goals. There remain wide gaps in achievement between white and non-white students.
While 83 percent of white students graduated from high school in Minnesota in 2012, only 51 percent of black students graduated and 53 percent of Hispanic students graduated.
The state says figures for 2013 released later this year will show vast improvement, but the rates for all strike us as disconcerting.
The achievement gap measure is just one of the new Multiple Measurement Ratings system the state is now using to assess performance of schools. The state was granted a waiver from the No Child Left Behind system to develop the system, which is preferable to the federal law.
The Multiple Measurement Ratings also include student proficiency, student growth, closing of the achievement gap and the graduation rates. Schools are measured on their score each year and growth is also noted. Schools falling in the lowest 25 percent of schools must submit a plan for improvement to the Department of Education.
As always, parents and school stakeholders need to keep abreast of their schools ratings and communicate with school leaders about how those ratings can be improved. Above all, parents need to make sure they’re giving as much support and direction to their children as possible in their academic endeavors.
All the rating systems in the world won’t work if parents are not playing an integral role in their child’s education.