Nathan: School rating system misses excellent schools

Potentially misleading, probably more reasonable and hopefully, helpful.

That’s how families may view a new system of accountability, including something called the Multiple Measurement Rating (MMR)  that was just released by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).

You won’t find some of Minnesota’s highest performing schools in the 125 top ranked “reward” list of schools that MDE just released? According to Sam Kramer, Minnesota Department of Education Policy Specialist, that’s because they don’t receive federal “Title 1” funds to serve low-income students.  Kramer says, “federal law prevents us” from including schools on this list unless they are “Title One.”

Will the changes produce improvements?  Maybe. Pete Olson, Princeton High School Principal, told me, “We are starting to take a look at the numbers.  We’re planning some training for this summer to more fully understand the new system.  We’re always looking at achievement gaps, overall student proficiency and graduation rates, and working to improve each of them.  That’s our goal, and we think that’s the goal of the new MMR system.  We also are looking forward to the report that comes out this fall…the numbers that have just come out reflect work in previous years.

Braham superintendent Greg Winter wrote, “Although (the new system) does factor in other viable attributes of a school to make a more authentic determination of success or failure, it offers no solutions to address the specific issues to combat failure within a school system nor does it offer any real reward to those schools that have found success.”

As Principal Olson mentioned, the information just released is not about how well students or schools did during the 2011-2012 school year that is just concluding. The results reported recently are from the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school year.  This fall the Minnesota Department of Education will release results for the 2011-12 school year.

This is not a farewell to the federal  “No Child Left Behind” law that required states to establish standards in reading and math, and required schools to test students in various grades, with state reports. Minnesota still requires students in grades 3-8 and in high schools to be tested.   The state will continue to report results, along with graduation rates.

The information about schools is being released in a different way.  Until this year, Minnesota schools could be on a “needs improvement” list if even one small group of students did not make required “annual yearly progress.”  Last year about half of the state’s schools were on the needs improvement list.  The current system does seem more reasonable than that system which educators hated.

The state will focus its improvement efforts on schools serving low income students that consistently have the lowest scores.


Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change.  Reactions welcome, [email protected]