A call for meaningful accountability measurements in Minneapolis schools

According to the latest figures from the Minnesota Department of Education, only half of the schools statewide are making adequate yearly progress (AYP) as measured by tests in reading and math. In Minneapolis, eight of the district’s 25 Southwest-area schools made AYP. Overall, 11 Minneapolis schools made AYP, and 66 fell short of the mark in one or more of the many categories tracked by the accountability system known as No Child Left Behind.

While we are disappointed that schools are labeled as “needs improvement,” we are not surprised given the “one size fits all” approach of the law. In Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), we believe wholeheartedly in accountability. The challenge for us is that we must go further and faster than any other district in the state.

This is the sixth year schools have been measured against an annually rising bar of achievement toward the federal government’s 2014 goal of 100 percent of students being proficient in reading and math. Currently in Minneapolis, 49 percent of students overall are proficient in reading and 41 percent are proficient in math according to the state tests.

We focused on the data in two key areas that are important checkpoints for student progress: third-grade reading and middle school math. Why? Achievement scores in reading at the end of the third grade are good predictors of later school success. Additionally, we want all of our students ready for algebra by eighth grade because it is essential preparation for advanced high school math and postsecondary studies.

On these two measures, we know we have work to do. While early literacy has been a hallmark of Minneapolis schools for the past 10 years, this year we saw a dip of 6 percent in third-grade reading, from 59 percent to 53 percent. The state saw a 1 percent decline. For schools in the Southwest area, we saw a 3 percent decline in reading, from 70 percent to 67 percent proficient.

In middle school math, we saw a 1 percent increase overall, from 37 percent to 38 percent. Southwest-area schools saw a 2 percent decline, going from 55 percent to 53 percent proficient.

Even before statewide AYP results came out, we had taken major steps to eliminate the achievement gap and raise achievement for all students. Three substantial changes focus on the classroom: supporting principal and teacher leadership, providing coaches in every elementary school to ensure solid reading skills and adopting a new math program. These are precisely the core education essentials the renewed referendum funding would support.

Despite the fact we are not where we need to be, we have seen growth.

High school graduation rates are up. MPS graduation rates have increased from 53 percent in 2004 to 73 percent in 2008. Both Southwest and Washburn high schools have met the 80 percent graduation rate standard set by the state. Overall, six of our seven comprehensive high schools have met the standard.

AYP rankings can be useful in creating a sense of urgency. They show us where we have the most work to do and where we have the greatest need. However, to truly measure student achievement, we must go beyond the AYP results, which are one test at one point in time. We also must rely on our community partners and our parents to do all they can to support learning outside the school day.

The bottom line is that families want their children to do well in school, and so do we.

William D. Green is superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools.

Online

AYP results in Minneapolis Public Schools and detailed information about choice and other services available through No Child Left Behind are available online at www.mpls.k12.mn.us/.