The Minnesota Department of Education will provide varying levels of support to several dozen schools in the Minneapolis district over the next three years to improve standardized test scores, English language proficiency and graduation and attendance rates.
The department will offer coaching, training and networking opportunities to staff at those schools, with the goal of helping them improve student outcomes. It will also require them to assess their schools’ needs and develop a plan for improving student achievement.
The efforts come as the department works toward ambitious proficiency and graduation-rate goals that it set under a plan required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. It used multiple data points, including achievement and progress on state reading, math and language-proficiency tests and graduation rates, to identify schools that needed support under what it calls the North Star accountability system.
The department also recognized over 500 schools across the state that were top performers in those areas, including 15 in the Minneapolis district.
“North Star places equity at the heart of our work to help all schools serve students well,” Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius stated in an Aug. 30 press release. “It points us toward the schools that will benefit from intensive support and schools that are positioned to offer lessons about how to help others improve.”
There were 48 MPS schools identified as needing support among 485 the education department identified on Aug. 30 under the new system. Some were identified because of low performance of a single student group on the statewide standardized tests. Others were identified because of graduation rates for single student groups or the student body as a whole.
The education department plans on providing the most support to the lowest-performing schools that receive federal Title I funding that also have the lowest attendance and academic growth rates. It also plans on prioritizing support to any high school with a graduation rate below 67 percent, whether that is school-wide or for a single student group.
In addition, the department plans to provide support to other low-performing schools and those with underperforming student groups.
The Minneapolis district had 20 schools identified as needing “comprehensive” support and another 17 identified as needing “targeted” support. They included all of the district’s comprehensive high schools, all of which had at least one student group under the 67 percent threshold for four-year graduation rates.
In a press release, the district pointed toward its focus on four core priorities of equity, literacy, social-emotional learning and student-support systems as an integral part of its response to the North Star system. The district said the state data are another tool it could use to focus on meeting students’ individual needs.
Iteration of ESEA
Michael Diedrich, a policy specialist with the education department, said the department hopes the new system helps it make best use of the federal funding it receives under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The state receives about $250 million annually under the law, he said.
ESSA is the latest iteration of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which President Lyndon Johnson signed into law in 1965. Congress reauthorized the law in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind Act, requiring states to label schools based on students’ performance on standardized tests.
The new education law looks beyond test data to offer a more comprehensive understanding of what’s happening in schools, according to the state education department.
Still, officials cautioned that the North Star system does not provide a complete look at a school’s successes or failures. Cassellius noted in the release that the department plans to collect additional data over the next several years, including measures of career and college readiness and school climate.
“This will give us a better picture of school quality than what current data are able to provide,” she said.
Test data released
The education department also on Aug. 30 released the statewide standardized test data for 2018, as it typically does toward the end of the summer. A greater proportion of MPS students tested were proficient on the statewide reading test in 2018 than in 2017, according to the data, though math proficiency decreased slightly.
Just more than 43.5 percent of MPS students tested in math were proficient in 2018, compared to 44.1 percent in 2017, according to the data. In reading, 46.4 percent of MPS students tested were deemed proficient, compared to 44.6 percent in 2017.
Statewide, 60.4 percent of students tested in reading in 2018 were deemed proficient, as were 57.7 percent of students tested in math. The state tests students in reading in math each year in grades 3–8 and also in 10th grade for reading and 11th grade for math.
Eric Moore, chief of accountability, innovation and research for MPS, said in a press release that the district has not seen the trends it would like to see. But he said the district is hoping to change its trajectory over time by continuing to implement its four core priorities and using information from the North Star system.
The state also released data on participation in the standardized tests. Just over 90 percent of MPS students expected to be tested in math were tested in 2018, according to the education department, compared to 97.7 percent of students statewide. The participation rate dropped to 45.6 percent among 11th-graders in MPS, compared to 91.2 percent among 11th-graders statewide.