The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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February 19, 2014

Our View: Achievement gap progress a start

Why it matters: While many schools have made progress on the achievement gap, there's more work to be done

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.

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