Schools in area, across state see growth in tests scores
Paynesville Area Elementary School was among the schools celebrating this week when the state released its most recent school rankings. The school made dramatic gains in its Multiple Measurement Ratings scores over the past year. The first of these kinds of scores were released by the Minnesota Department of Education in spring 2012. The school this year has been named a Reward School, among the top 25 percent in the state.
A year ago, the school was considered a Focus School, placing it among the 10 percent of schools contributing most to the state’s achievement gap.
Other schools in the area making dramatic gains were Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City’ Elementary in Atwater, which moved from being a Priority School, among the lowest 5 percent in the state, to being a Reward School.
The area’s other Priority School, Kennedy Elementary in Willmar, celebrated an increase of 40 percentage points in its scores, but still retains the Priority School label.
Paynesville Elementary Principal Dave Oehrlein said the staff worked hard in the last year to find ways to reach every student.
Multiple Measurement Ratings scores take into account academic achievement, academic growth and achievement gaps. In previous years, schools were judged only on academic achievement.
The school was considered to be doing well on previous measurements, he said, but that changed with the MMR scores.
“We looked at it as an opportunity,” he said. The school received guidance from the state, created a school improvement plan and hired a part-time data instructor, he said.
The data instructor worked with the staff to identify the school’s strengths and weaknesses. If something they tried didn’t seem to be working, “we moved on,” he said.
The entire staff was involved in the turnaround, Oehrlein said. “Everybody took ownership of what they do,” and it made a difference.
On Tuesday, the staff had a little celebration but got straight back to work, he said. “We want to continue to build on those successes.”
While some schools have had staff celebrations this week, others are taking a step back to review and redirect their efforts after seeing scores fall.
Some schools received lower Multiple Measurement Ratings scores this year because of a new reading test based on new state standards. Those variations were expected when the new test was introduced.
Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius has said in the past that the state expects to keep its standards and testing consistent for several years, which should make it easier to follow trends.
Only schools that receive federal Title I funding are given a Multiple Measurement Ratings designation from the state, with the top 40 percent of schools receiving recognition and the bottom 25 percent receiving support from the state. Other schools receive scores but are not ranked like the Title I schools.
Cassellius praised the growth seen in schools across the state this year. She spoke with reporters in a conference call after the scores were released.
Minnesota is also making progress in closing achievement gaps, Cassellius said.
“Why — because we are implementing smart policy and smart practices,” she said. “When teachers get the right help and right kind of support and we invest in their development, kids do better.”
The state is using a waiver from the No Child Left Behind federal education law to change its response to struggling schools from punitive measures to a system of support and assistance.
“The state has restructured our support,” she said. “We’re not just expecting a school improvement plan; we are going out and working with schools, looking at data and helping to put in place the right resources. … It takes this concentrated personal assistance to get schools moving.”
In all, 17 Priority schools and 10 Focus schools were able to leave their designations by increasing achievement and closing achievement gaps. Cassellius said the state will be following up with those schools to learn more about how they did it.
Other Reward schools in the area include ACGC Elementary Grades 5-6; Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa Elementary; Hancock Elementary; Appleton Elementary; MACCRAY West Elementary; and New London-Spicer Prairie Woods Elementary.
Area schools classified as Celebration Eligible and having the chance to apply for Celebration School designation — just below the Reward schools — are BOLD Elementary; Lac qui Parle Valley Madison-Marietta-Nassau Elementary; Litchfield Wagner Elementary; MACCRAY East Elementary; Minnewaska Area Middle School and Minnewaska Area Elementary.
Five schools in the area have scores placing them in the bottom 25 percent of schools in the state. These Continuous Improvement schools are Redwood Valley Reede Gray Elementary and Renville County West Elementary. Those schools are in the bottom 25 percent but are not designated Priority or Focus.
Focus schools are Willmar Roosevelt Elementary and Yellow Medicine East Bert Raney Elementary.