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Politicians, help families: Let state’s new school assessments stand

Minnesota’s Department of Education released its new assessments of school and student performance known as the North Star system.

Designed to “create more equitable and well-rounded learning opportunities for all students across the state,” North Star takes a sharp turn away from about 20 years of ratings and assessments focused mostly on high-stakes test scores.

To be clear, that’s an important and much-needed change.

More importantly, though, is this point: Politicians, at both the state and federal levels, must stop moving the goal posts when it comes to assessing Minnesota schools and students.

For families to fairly and accurately assess performance, common sense dictates whatever system is created be left in place (and mostly unchanged) for several years or — gasp — even longer!

Not only will that show student and school performance measured the same way repeatedly, but it will allow Minnesotans to develop the context and perspective needed to decide for themselves how kids and educators are doing.

Such consistency the past 15 years has been as rare as an empty stomach at the state fair.

For example, the North Star system is the second rendition on ranking schools coming from Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration since he was elected in 2011. The first version used vague labels like “reward,” “celebration,” “focus” and “priority” for schools’ overall performance.

Those arose largely because the state got a waiver to opt out of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Of course, it was NCLB that spurred predecessor Gov. Tim Pawlenty to create a five-star ranking system built on test scores and arguably more obsessed with tracking money than students.

In the wake of NCLB came Obama and not just waivers to NCLB but a Race To the Top and his Every Student Succeeds Act, which prompted Minnesota’s World’s Best Workforce law and ultimately the North Star system.

Up next? Donald Trump signed his Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act in late July. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, though, it’s worth repeating the North Star system is a better measure of overall performance for students and schools because it uses more variables than just high-stakes tests.

The system considers five key indicators: academic achievement based on MCA scores, progress to proficiency for English learners, academic progress from one year to the next, graduation rates over four or seven years, and consistent attendance.

While it does not have simple labels, North Star does determine prioritized support for schools based on how schools and entire districts perform on those five factors.

Now politicians just need to leave it in place long enough to allow it to measure student and school performance over an extended period of time.

— Mankato Free Press

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