The Free Press, Mankato, MN


February 25, 2014

Our View: Grad rate offers mixed grade

Why it matters: Gains in graduation rates for area schools and the state show positive signs but ways to measure come into question

The enthusiasm that Mankato area graduation rates appear to be well above state average and state averages are better than last year must be tempered by the frustration of Minnesotans on the existence of a measurement system that seems to change and confuse.

While Minnesota’s overall graduation rate for 2013 was the highest in a decade at 80 percent, up from 2012’s rate of 77.6 percent, the report was like a batting average with an asterisk by it. That’s because even last year, graduation rates were measured differently. While that mattered to some who may have been reluctant to address a comparison to last year, it didn’t stop Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius, a political appointee, from stating rates are the best in a decade and credit should go to Dayton and the Legislature for increasing funding.

Maybe. You can’t tell from the system of measurement we have right now.

Some Republican critics suggest rates may have gone up this year because the Legislature removed the graduation test last year as a requirement for graduating. There’s got to be a least a little truth to that from a logical point of view. Some grad rates jumped dramatically leading one to the conclusion that something more dramatic was at work — like removing one of the more difficult requirements for graduating.

Caselliuss countered that it was related to a new accountability and performance system for schools. That system uses graduation rates as a measure for schools, but it also focuses on reducing the achievement gap. And it’s also clear that schools and teachers have redoubled their efforts to track and help struggling students and to improve teaching methods.

In some respects, the new system of measurement and accountability has been working. In the new measurements, many showed improvement not only in the Mankato area but around the state. The Multiple Measurement Rating measures the achievement gap progress as well as graduation rates. A report about a week ago showed the achievement gap was narrowing in Mankato area schools as well as several schools around the state

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