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New state school monitoring system offers compliments, assistance to others

Erica Dischino / Tribune file photo A seventh-grade student works on math homework at a Willmar Middle School after-school program in this October file photo. Willmar Middle School students’ math scores surpass the state average and their progress was highlighted when the school district conducted its annual public hearing on its World’s Best Workforce progress recently.1 / 3
Erica Dischino / Tribune Principal Lori Lockhart reads Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” to a kindergarten class for “Green Eggs and Ham Day” on March 2, 2018, at Roosevelt Elementary School in Willmar. Students were asked to wear green to participate that day.2 / 3
Erica Dischino / Tribune Linda Bahe, Willmar Public Schools’ director of alternative programs, works with students Nov. 7 in a classroom at the Area Learning Center in Willmar. Bahe said she is thrilled with the success students are having this year under a new schedule.3 / 3

WILLMAR — A new state monitoring system is putting a new, more positive spin on what many considered a judgemental way of measuring school progress.

A focus on test results and punitive measures has been replaced by North Star, the Minnesota Department of Education's plan to implement Every Student Succeeds Act, the new federal education law.

The state released its first report under the new guidelines. New school report cards are available from the state today at under the Data Center tab.

The system shifts emphasis from test scores to a broader set of measures, with the goal of helping MDE decide how to best allocate its resources.

"For over 20 years, we have relied far too much on test scores as the sole measure of school performance," Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said in a news release. "This misguided approach has resulted in a status quo that has not only skewed the perception of how our schools are doing, but has narrowed and limited opportunities for students to experience a rich and well-rounded education."

North Star was designed to do away with the negative labeling of student scores and instead focus on the efforts of adults, Carrie Thomas, director of teaching and learning for Willmar Public Schools said Wednesday.

"Adults need to think about what we need to do differently, about what can we do to meet the needs of kids," Thomas said.

The state is now using five indicators to decide which schools need support:

• Achievement on state tests in reading and math,

• Progress on reading and math scores over time,

• Student progress toward English language proficiency,

• Four-year graduation rates of at least 67 percent and

• consistent attendance of at least 90 percent.

Some area schools have been recognized for doing well in various categories. Others have been identified as needing varying levels of additional support. State assistance will come from regional centers of excellence which MDE developed in recent years.

Eight schools are eligible for recognition — Benson and Hancock high schools for four-year graduation rates and elementary schools in Lac qui Parle, Minnewaska and New London-Spicer will be honored for academic progress on math and/or reading. Willmar Middle and High schools will be honored for the high attendance of Asian students.

Support for some schools will be comprehensive, with on-site coaching and specific plans. Other assistance will be more limited, offering training and networking.

Willmar's Senior High and Area Learning Center were both designated for comprehensive support because four-year graduation rates are below the benchmark for several groups of students.

Thomas told the School Board several months ago this would be the case.

"A lot of our students come in without prior school," she said Wednesday. "In Minnesota, we are allowed to educate them until they're 21; a lot of our kids are staying with us."

Some students keep studying and graduate after six or seven years. The school does not lower its standards for students who take extra time to graduate, Thomas added — "we want the Willmar diploma to mean something."

One other area school was designated for comprehensive support. Renville County West Elementary will receive assistance in addressing its three-year average test scores.

Other schools qualified for lesser levels of support. Elementary schools in Willmar, BOLD, RCW, Montevideo, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg and Lac qui Parle Valley were designated because of low three-year average test scores in a variety of student groups.

Three school districts were listed as needing support. Benson, RCW and Yellow Medicine East were listed for issues with test scores and student academic growth, also because their attendance levels fell short.

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

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