Weather Forecast


Willmar, Minn., area schools stumble in new state ratings system for academic growth

Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar has been listed among the "5 percent most-persistently low-performing schools in the state" on all four measurements by the Department of Education. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

This story has been corrected to include Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa Elementary School in Brooten among the top-performing schools in the area.

WILLMAR -- Many area schools fared well in the first release of new state testing data released today, but some were rated among the lowest schools in the state in addressing the achievement gap.

Five schools in the area were listed in the bottom two categories of schools -- including Kennedy and Roosevelt elementary schools in Willmar and Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City North Elementary in Atwater -- and eight were listed in the top tier in this first release.

Other schools were listed in the middle ground between the lowest and highest groups.

The state Department of Education developed the Multiple Measurement Rating system after receiving a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind education law.

The initial ratings were based on student testing in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. Another set of ratings based on the 2011-12 testing data will be released in late summer.

The new system focuses on measuring student growth, student proficiency, achievement gaps for minority students and those receiving special services, and graduation rates. In addition to the Multiple Measurement Rating, schools receive a Focus Rating, which targets scores related to proficiency and achievement gap.

The state's goal is to reduce the achievement gap by 50 percent in six years. In the past, districts were measured on their progress toward having all students learning at grade level by 2014.

Under this new system, two west central Minnesota schools have been listed among the "5 percent most-persistently low-performing schools in the state" on all four measurements by the Minnesota Department of Education. Kennedy Elementary in Willmar and ACGC North Elementary in Atwater have this Priority School designation.

Three schools are listed among the "10 percent of Title I schools making the biggest contribution to the state's achievement gap." Roosevelt Elementary in Willmar, Paynesville Elementary and Bert Raney Elementary in Granite Falls in the Yellow Medicine East School District have this Focus School designation.

The term "Title I" refers to federal funding granted to schools to improve the academics of disadvantaged students, such as children in high-poverty schools or with limited English proficiency.

Nine schools in the area earned the Reward School designation, described by the department as the "highest-performing 15 percent of Title I schools in the state."

Those schools are Minnewaska Area Middle School and Minnewaska Area Elementary in Glenwood; MACCRAY West Elementary in Maynard and East Elementary in Clara City; ACGC South Elementary in Cosmos; Madison-Marietta-Nassau Elementary in Madison and Appleton Elementary in Appleton in the Lac qui Parle Valley School District; Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa Elementary in Brooten; and the Clarkfield Charter School.

According to information from the department, the state has 42 priority schools, 85 focus schools and 127 reward schools.

Priority schools will work with the Department of Education to develop turnaround plans to implement by Sept. 1.

Much of the former Adequate Yearly Progress system is gone and replaced by the Multiple Measurement Rating.

Not everything has changed though. Schools judged to be low-performing must still set aside 20 percent of their federal Title I funding to address their needs. The money will be used for efforts connected to the improvements plans they will develop with guidance from the department.

These sanctions still apply only to schools eligible for Title I funding, mostly elementary schools.

Another similarity to the former Adequate Yearly Progress system is the focus on achievement among subgroups, including minorities, English Language Learners, special education and low-income students. If students in a subgroup don't show as much growth as expected, the school can drop in the ratings.

Willmar Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said in an interview in his office that the new system looks at data differently but still has some of the shortcomings of the old one.

"I'm not making excuses," he said. "I know there's no way to lessen the shock to the community."

But students in Willmar are learning and exhibiting academic growth, he said.

"I don't think we deserve to be labeled failing schools," he said. "We've got problems a lot of schools have, and we need to address the needs of our kids; we're going to work hard."

The staff in both buildings has been focused on helping struggling students, he said, and he was worried how teachers and others would take this news.

It's possible the Multiple Measurement Rating rating for the 2011-12 will tell a different story, he said. "We have worked really hard this year on reading and math."

Both elementary schools have plans in place, he said. Those plans will be revised this summer, and other buildings in the district will be writing plans, too.

"We need to try to help all our schools," he said.

Information about the statewide data and individual schools is available at

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340