Reward, Focus and Priority; To many outside of the education world these terms mean different things, and even still to many educators there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the words used in the Minnesota Department of Education’s (MDE) new school ranking system.
Paving the way for growth and achievement with its new accountability system called the Multiple Measurement Ratings (MMR) — measuring in four categories:
• Academic proficiency — Incorporates the existing adequate yearly progress measurement, with results broken down into different student subgroups.
• Student growth — Measures how schools helped students improve from year to the next.
• Progress in closing achievement gaps — Measures the ability of schools to coax faster growth from traditionally underperforming subgroups by comparing the growth of the lower-performing groups at a school to the statewide average for high-performing subgroups. For example, students of color would be compared to white students or students receiving free and reduced lunches would be compared to those not receiving them.
• Graduation rates for high schools
Schools can earn a maximum of 25 points in each of those categories with the number of points based on a percentile rank among other schools in the same grade range on a scale up to 100 percent. Because elementary and middle schools do not record or received graduation rates, they can receive up to 75 points, while high schools can receive up to 100.
The MDE’s first-ever MMR results released May 21 showed Brainerd School District’s Lowell Elementary in the designation of the highest-performing 15 percent of Title I schools in the state, listed as a Reward school.
The results are the first of their kind after Minnesota was granted a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act that was put in place in 2001. The waiver allowed the Minnesota Department of Education to instead approach a new look at testing with the MMR, where the biggest goal according to the MDE is “to improve disparity between students of color and in poverty and their white counterparts, often called the achievement gap.”
Where the No Child Left Behind relies on one high-stakes annual standardized test of academic proficiency to determine whether a school is making adequate yearly progress, the MMR used testing from 2010-11 and includes three designations:
• Reward Schools: The highest-performing 15 percent of Title I schools in the state. The state named 128 schools in this category.
• Focus Schools: The 10 percent of Title I schools making the biggest contribution to the state’s achievement gap. There are 85 schools that received this designation.
• Priority Schools: The 5 percent most-persistently low-performing Title I schools in the state. There are 42 schools that received this designation.
Lowell was the only school in the Brainerd School District and among area schools that was categorized into a designation.
The MMR is used to determine Priority and Reward schools, combining proficiency, growth, achievement gap reduction and graduation rates from 2010-11. The Focus Rating (FR) is used to determine Focus schools combining achievement gap reduction and focused proficiency from 2010-11.
Average MMR scores statewide are right around the 50 percent mark, with the majority of area schools recording percents above state average. The lowest rating was 13.40 percent at Cass-Bena Elementary in Cass County, also designated as a Focus School, and the highest was recorded at Lowell Elementary School in Brainerd, a Reward School, at 85.80 percent.