Saturday, June 23, 2018


Number of underperforming public schools is down dramatically
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Even Judy Schaubach, president of the Education Minnesota teachers union and a critic of last year's list, called Monday's smaller list "exciting and wonderful news." (MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire)
State education officials are boasting that the number of underperforming public schools is down dramatically from a year ago. Across-the-board improvements on statewide student tests had a big impact. But changes in the way the state is measuring school progress also helped pare the list.

Falcon Heights, Minn. — The new list shows 247 schools failed to meet the performance goals required under the federal No Child Left Behind Law. A year ago 464 schools fell short.

State education officials say the reduction is due in large part to higher scores on the reading and math tests used to measure school performance. During a state fair news conference to announce the results, Gov. Pawlenty praised the work parents, teachers and students.

"Every group of Minnesota students (improved) their educational performance compared to last year. And it's not just a little improvement; it's significant," Pawlenty said.

Results from the tests, known as the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, show gains at all grade levels. One of the biggest jumps came in seventh grade, where the percentage of students hitting the proficiency mark in math climbed nine points. The scores also showed a narrowing of the achievement gaps among all racial groups.

Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said shining a light on school performance has brought about big changes.

"It's caused all of our schools to look at what they need to do to improve test scores," she said. "They've aligned their curriculum to the standards, and that's the most important thing. And then they've gone in and strategically done what they need to do to educate our children."

But higher tests aren't the only reason for the shorter list. Some schools avoided the "needs improvement" label this year because of changes in the way the state calculates adequate yearly progress. One change allowed schools to use up to three-year averages of their test scores. Schools also got a pass from counting the scores of non-English speaking students if they had fewer than 40 students in that subgroup.

"It gives more of our children who are coming over to the country for the first time the opportunity to learn before they are tested," Seagren said. The state measures and reports the performance of every public school. But Under No Child Left Behind, only schools receiving federal Title I funds face consequences for missing test goals. After two years on the list, school must allow students to transfer. A third year requires tutoring services. School must develop corrective action plans after four years on the list.

In Minneapolis, six of the seven schools that reached the four-year threshold in 2004 are now meeting their reading and math goals. Superintendent Thandiwe Peebles was ecstatic about the turnaround she helped engineer.

"We sent home homework books every Friday, and parents bought into it. I mean I got dirty looks at the supermarket, but parents actually bought into it and helped their children. And we just stayed on top of our goal and teachers were relentless," she said.

One Minneapolis school, Jordan Park Elementary, remained on the list for a fifth consecutive year. Peebles says the school is meeting its academic goals but attendance numbers are too low. She says Jordan Park will not be restructured.

The state also released new school report cards, which include a rating of one to five stars based on test scores. This year 123 schools earned five stars in both reading and math, compared to 71 in 2004.

Judy Schaubach, president of the statewide teachers union Education Minnesota, cautioned against reading too much into the ratings. She recommended parents look at all the information available for a school.

"Make sure that you're talking to the principal and the teachers in your school to get good information about the school your child is going to," she said. "Don't assume you need to leave because all of a sudden the school was a two- or a three-star school."

Schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress can earn no better than a two-star rating on the state report card.