The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

May 22, 2012

Local schools shine in new evaluations

MANKATO — Four of six eligible schools in the Mankato Area School District and one Nicollet school were designated as top performers under the new state accountability system, according to results released today by the Minnesota Department of Education.

The schools are identified as “Reward Schools,” which are the top 15 percent in the state based on a percentage determined by the Multiple Measurements Rating, the new assessment plan put into place after Minnesota’s waiver approval in February from No Child Left Behind.

“We were very, very pleased to see we had four schools in that category,” said Cindy Amoroso, Mankato Schools director of curriculum instruction.

Under the Multiple Measurements Rating, schools are judged individually based on students’ scores in reading and math, but academic growth, graduation rates and closing the achievement gap also factor in equally.

Under No Child Left Behind, all students were expected to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. The new model focuses on growth for all students and closing the achievement gap between middle-class white students and other student groups, such as English Language Learners, free and reduced lunch students, and others.

The system also takes away sanctions for underperforming schools, focusing instead on reward for growth.

One of the conditions of the waiver was to release school performance information and designations for schools’ accountability before the end of this school year based on test results from 2010 and 2011. (Results from this year’s testing will be released in late summer.)

Amoroso said the information released today, in essence, is repackaged results the district already received under the old model. As such, schools already have set goals and put plans into place for improvement.

“We really have been focusing on that growth,” Amoroso said.

The Department of Education assessed the previous two years’ test results using the MMR system to establish a baseline for comparative purposes when this year’s test results and Multiple Measurements Ratings are released in August.

Only Title I schools (schools that receive federal poverty aid) can receive a classification based on their MMR score: either Priority (bottom 5 percent in the state) or Reward (top 15 percent). Focus Schools also are identified. Those schools are 10 percent of the Title I schools with the most extreme achievement gap.

Of the Title I schools in Mankato, Nicollet, St. Clair, St. Peter, Lake Crystal and Waseca districts, no schools were categorized as Priority or Focus schools. Reward schools were Nicollet Elementary; and Kennedy, Monroe, Rosa Parks and Washington elementaries in the Mankato district.

Gwen Walz, Mankato Schools assessment coordinator, said the MMR system provides a bigger picture. But she said the results are still based on the same singular test score on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment test.

“MMR is a much more comprehensive look at what’s really happening in a school,” Walz said. “It’s a step better. But it’s still based on one test on one day. ... One test can’t be all things to all people.”

Amoroso said the results released in August will provide a better picture of growth at each school, as the rating will be based on current test results. However, she pointed out the tests were conducted before the schools or districts were introduced to the new MMR system. So the schools didn’t have the opportunity to use that feedback to implement changes before this last MCA test was conducted.

She said the best look at growth under the new model will come after next year’s testing and beyond.

Generally, as the overall MMR percentage increases for a school, that indicates growth, Amoroso said. But with four components entering into each overall rating, an increase in proficiency on test scores may not result in an increase in overall MMR percentage if a school decreased in points in another category, such as graduation rate or a widening achievement gap.

“Every time we get these results, it raises a set of questions,” Amoroso said.

Walz agreed, adding that success cannot be measured by one test.

“Data is never the answer,” she said. “Data only helps you raise the right questions.”

For information on individual schools, including their Multiple Measurements and Focus ratings, visit the Department of Education website at education.state.mn.us and click on the “Data Center” link at the top, right of the page.

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