ROSEVILLE – Schools collaborating with the state’s award-winning system of support continue to show improvement in closing achievement gaps and helping more students succeed, according to information released today by the Minnesota Department of Education.
In addition to showing overall school performance, the 2014 Multiple Measurements Ratings (MMR) tell us which schools are beating the odds, which schools are making the most substantial improvement, and which schools are eligible to receive additional support from the state’s Regional Centers of Excellence.
“This tells us what we’ve known all along,” said Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. “Our schools can close achievement gaps, but it’s not easy and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes everyone working toward a focused and common goal: making sure every single student succeeds. This is a tribute to the tremendous work of teachers, schools leaders and community members who have come together to support their students.”
This year, 131 schools are designated as Reward schools and 217 schools are classified as Celebration Eligible. Reward and Celebration Eligible schools are high-performing in the areas of student test scores, student growth, achievement gap reduction and graduation rates, and also receive federal funds for children from low-income families. Forty of the Reward schools have received the honor three times and 20 have received it four times.
“Some of our Reward schools are truly beating the odds, and many of them are doing it year after year,” said Cassellius. “They are meeting the needs of their diverse learners due to the teachers’ and leaders’ hard work, and they are teaching us exactly what it takes for sustained high performance.”
The state has also designated a new group of Priority and Focus schools. Identified on a three-year cycle, these 155 schools are eligible to receive support from the state. Priority schools represent the lowest 5 percent of schools according to the MMR, while Focus schools are the 10 percent of schools across the state with the largest achievement gaps.
“This is not about labeling schools as failing; it is about recognizing what is working and what isn’t, and doing whatever it takes,” said Commissioner Cassellius. “Teachers and principals tell us that the collaborative nature of the work is empowering. We know they are already working hard. It’s the focused support—working side-by-side in the classroom rather than top down—that’s helping get better, faster results.”
Under Minnesota’s waiver from No Child Left Behind, the state has set a goal to reduce achievement gaps by 50 percent by 2017. The state has also set an ambitious goal of reaching a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. Cassellius acknowledged these goals will require persistence, which is why this year the state has identified a new set of high schools with a six-year graduation rate below 60 percent for additional state support.
Seventy-four percent of Priority schools who worked closely with the Regional Centers of Excellence demonstrated better student growth in 2014 than in 2011.
Eighty-three percent of Priority schools that worked closely with the centers are doing a better job today of closing achievement gaps than they were in 2011.
Focus schools working with the centers are also making strides in closing gaps—about 54 percent have better achievement gap closure now than in 2011.
In just one year, between 2013 and 2014, almost 20 percent of schools across the state improved their MMR score by more than 10 points, and 7 percent improved by more than 20 points.
Since being designated as Priority or Focus schools in 2012, nearly 20 percent of schools working with the state improved so much that they are now being recognized for strong performance by receiving the Celebration Eligible or Reward designation.
Forty-three percent of all schools initially designated as Priority or Focus improved to the point where they are no longer designated as low-performing.
“While the results we see today are encouraging, we still have more work to do,” said Cassellius. “We need all hands on deck if we are going to reach our goal of giving every Minnesota child a great education.”
The Regional Centers of Excellence are part of the state’s efforts to support Focus and Priority schools, and provide statewide professional development to teachers. The innovative model involves partnership between regional cooperatives and schools. The centers empower schools to lead their own turnaround efforts by working with teachers and principals to implement comprehensive school improvement plans. Through a combination of professional development, on-site technical assistance, and ongoing support, the centers use student data to help teachers and schools narrow achievement gaps, increase students’ progress toward career and college readiness, and increase student graduation rates.
Located throughout the state, each Regional Center is staffed by a team of specialists in math, reading, special education and English language development who spend their time working directly in schools.
ACGC Elementary in Atwater, Minn., was designated as a Priority school in 2012, and was just named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education for their efforts in closing achievement gaps.
“I didn’t think this at first, but I’ve come to believe that being named a Priority school was the best thing that happened to us,” said Sherri Broderius, superintendent of the ACGC school district. “It wasn’t much fun in the beginning, but the hard work of our entire staff is paying off. The Regional Centers of Excellence didn’t do the work for us—instead they worked with us to devise our own strategies to transform all of our schools into high-performing places where all students are learning and thriving.”
The Regional Centers, which expanded from three to six in 2013 with investment from the state, have received national attention for their innovative model of providing on-the-ground support to schools. The centers were recently awarded the State Government Innovation Award from the Hubert Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.