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Area schools react to new ratings

September 1, 2012
By Jenny Kirk , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - As new Multiple Measurement Ratings (MMR) came out this week from the Minnesota Department of Education, 13 area schools found out they ranked with the best of them.

Since shifting to the MMR system for the second straight year, under a No Child Left Behind waiver, Minnesota educators have welcomed the opportunity to analyze multiple measurements when it comes to student learning. Using the MMR calculation, which combines Proficiency, Growth, Achievement Gap Reduction and Graduation Rates, the highest performing schools, ones that are ranked in the top 15 percent, are recognized as Reward Schools.

Five area elementary schools (Canby, Westbrook-Walnut Grove, Lake Benton, Hendricks and Russell-Tyler-Ruthton) and one area high school (Wabasso) were among the state's 128 schools designated as Reward Schools.

"It's pretty awesome," Canby Superintendent Loren Hacker said. "When we looked at the preliminary results, we thought we might fall just short. But once the results got finalized, it was great news."

Hacker reported that overall reading scores were about 2 percent above the state average, while math scores were approximately 1 percent below. While successes should always be celebrated, he said, testing should be taken in context of a number of other factors.

"Test scores are only about a third of what we do," Hacker said. "It's also about skills and will, applying the contest. We give them technical skills, writing skills and all kinds of other skills we teach kids. We take into account what employers want, like showing up for work, getting along with other people and communicating."

Fact Box

The MMR ratings are a combination of Proficiency, Growth, Achievement Gap Reduction and Graduation rates. Focus Ratings (FR) are measurements that include Achievement Gap Reduction and Focused Proficiency. Numbers are generated by dividing the total number of points earned by each school by the total number of points possible.

SchoolMMRFocus ratingDesignation

Marshall High School35.65%12.83%

Park Side Elementary - -

West Side Elementary46.78%60.49%

Marshall Middle School89.56%87.16%


Minneota Elementary13.63%53.88%Cont. Improvement

Minneota High School82.37%99.39%

Lynd Elementary64.91%77.96%Celebration Eligible

Hendricks Elementary97.21%- Reward

Lincoln Hi Elementary88.03%83.29%

Lincoln HI High School70.93%- Celebration Eligible

Lake Benton Elementary95.20%- Reward

Stevens Elem. (D-B)56.40%62.52%Celebration Eligible

Dawson-Boyd High School96.09%97.35%

Wabasso Elementary55.60%92.57%Celebration Eligible

Wabasso High School86.86%87.38%Reward

Canby Elementary85.41%87.68%Reward

Canby High School47.82%63.70%

Lakeview Elementary35.64%69.06%

Lakeview High School93.31%98.79%

MCC Elementary68.16%68.49%Celebration Eligible

MCC High School95.65%94.83%

Bert Raney Elem. (YME) 8.91% 6.51%Focus

YME High School47.15%23.36%

WWG Elementary86.06%89.27%Reward

WWG High School29.69% 7.98%

RTR Elementary90.18%90.28%Reward

RTR Middle School37.91%54.05%

RTR High School78.84%-

Tracy Area Elementary58.02%72.11%Celebration Eligible

Tracy Area High School58.68%34.97%

E.C.H.O. Charter74.00%96.75%Celebration Eligible

For most elementary and middle schools, 75 points are possible. For the majority of high schools, there are 100 points possible. The scores from each school are compared to others across the state at the grade grouping.

"Part of the problem with test scores is that you try to improve and improve," Hacker said. "But once you get to 100 percent, there's only one direction to go, and that's down."

Hacker questioned the tests themselves, pointing out that people design them to have 25 percent fail rate.

"You can only make area and perimeter so hard," he said. "They have to make the question itself more difficult then. So you have to keep everything in perspective."

Regardless of his belief that schools shouldn't put too much weight on test scores, Hacker knows that those high-stakes tests are the only gage MDE can use, and administrators need to have tangible data.

"It's hard to compare those other things," Hacker said. "As far as comparisons, we just want to know if we're in the ballpark, really. We need to know if we're on target or not. There's always something that needs attention."

Loy Woelber, superintendent at Westbrook-Walnut Grove and Tracy Area public schools, also acknowledged that education should never be entirely centered around testing.

"If my grandmother could walk through the hallways and be respected, and if our students are good to disabled kids, I'd be proud," Woelber said. "But the state can't measure that. I wish there was a way, though."

While WWG Elementary received the state's top honor, Tracy Area Elementary School, along with four other area elementary schools (Lynd, Wabasso, Murray County Central and Stevens Elementary in the Dawson-Boyd district), were among 211 schools designated as Celebration Eligible Schools, which include the next 25 percent of highest performing schools in Minnesota.

"It's something to toot your horn," Woelber said. "Our reading and math numbers were good. But, if you don't test higher next year, we'll go down."

Woelber pointed out that designations can be somewhat deceiving because of how the calculations are figured. Despite scoring very high on the MMR (95.65 percent), he said, MCC High School was not recognized as a top school.

"Slayton wasn't a Reward School," Woelber said. "I don't think they have an achievement gap and they've always been that high, so they're not improving. So what is the state rewarding? They want schools to improve, but what about the schools that are already good?"

Following the lead of other schools, like Rochester and Mankato, Woelber said, an after school Title program was added at WWG.

"It was a tough sell to get parents to say kids would spend another hour after school," Woelber said. "But now those kids are not ever pulled out during the school day. I think it's made a big difference."

While students in the TAPS district have had the opportunity to participate in after school help sessions before this year, the after school Title program is somewhat different.

"It is actually like a camp," Woelber said. "There are lots of activities. It's good for them."

In addition to small class sizes that lead to good teacher-to-student ratios, Woelber said he believes that supplying a free breakfast to all students has also been a big difference maker, Woelber said.

"More and more schools are becoming a surrogate parent and supply breakfast," he said. "While it might not be the school's responsibility according to some people, it's our attempt to fix the issue since our free and reduced lunch population is growing."

Along with E.C.H.O. Charter School, Lincoln HI High School was also recognized as a Celebration Eligible School.

"We have to apply for the eligibility piece of it, but since we earned it, we'll be going for it," said Michelle Mortensen, LH Superintendent/Principal. "We're pretty excited about it. We've had a great year."

The 2012-13 school year marks the second year that the Ivanhoe district has been K-12, having split from the long-time Hendricks pairing. So far, Mortensen said she likes what she's seen on the educational side.

"Our kids are doing a good job and they're happy," she said. "Our community is very proud of what we've accomplished with our school. We have a lot of support."

Mortensen believes that the district's strong concentration on curriculum and programming led to an increase in both reading and math proficiency scores this year at LH High School.

"In our reading department, we went up about 20 percent," she said. "In math, we went up about 20 percent there as well in the high school."

At LH Elementary, Mortensen said students showed a 90 percent proficiency in math and approximately 88 percent in reading.

"We're very happy with that," she said.

Before working at LH, Mortensen was an elementary teacher for 14 years. She was also involved with curriculum committees, which helped last year when the district was selecting new material.

"I've worked in small schools and large schools and I've been part of curriculum committees," Mortensen said. "I did a lot of research, so it wasn't new. I had experience in finding the best curriculums and doing research to find what matches our state standards."

Prior to the start of the 2011-12 school year, Mortensen joined together with experienced teachers at LH to build new curriculums for the school.

"We used as many pieces of information that our experts were able to get," she said.

Mortensen also believes that staff support and development, enhanced through collaboration with other professionals in the Flexible Learning Year (FLY) consortium, has also made a difference.

"I think the FLY has been good for our teachers," Mortensen said. "They've gotten into some professional academies, and the joint staff development and cross-district PLCs (professional learning communities) have really helped us. They've learned more interventions and strategies."

Hacker also praised the cutting-edge collaboration of the 25 FLY schools in southwest Minnesota.

"It's an amazing group of superintendents and school boards supporting a process that's relatively unique," Hacker said. "Really, it's about power and the will to commit to education. I believe the data, for the most part, tells us that there are more advantages than disadvantages. ...It's not hurting our test scores."

Hacker said he believes that the students and teachers deserve all the credit for working so diligently.

"They're the ones that are putting the time in," he said. "That's why we're a Reward School."

Hacker went one step further, praising the educational system across Minnesota.

"We have such wonderful teachers in Minnesota," Hacker said. "They work hard at trying to provide a great education. Historically, we have a great education system. One test is just a tool, to keep everyone looking at the targets."

Additionally, 86 schools, including Minneota Elementary, were designated as Continuous Improvement Schools, which account for the bottom 25 percent, not including Priority and Focus Schools.

Along with an MMR score, Minnesota schools are given a Focus Rating (FR), which combines Achievement Gap Reduction and Focused Proficiency.

A score is generated by dividing the points earned by the total points possible, with each domain being worth 25 points (50 total).

Using the FR calculation the bottom 10 percent of schools are identified as Focus Schools. Bert Raney Elementary, in the Yellow Medicine East district, was designated as a Focus School last year and will continue to receive support from the state in its efforts to create a turnaround plan for the future.



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