Minnesota legislators tackle an outdated school-ranking system

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Minnesota is one of the few states without a summative rating system for schools and school districts, and a new legislative proposal is pushing the issue to the forefront for educators, parents and advocates there.

The legislation would require the state Department of Education (MDE) to implement a rating system that gives a single overall score to schools and school districts for student achievement, student growth and measures to reduce the achievement-gap — and also include data not based directly on academics, such as extra-curricular activities. The proposal is part of the latest version of House File 4328, an omnibus education finance bill.

The ratings must be publicly accessible by Sept. 1, 2020, according to the proposal, but parents are asking for the results to be included in the state’s current annual school report card as soon as possible.

Right now, the MDE publishes a searchable annual school report card that measuring the achievement, demographic and graduation rate of any particular school in the state. It’s not popular with legislators or parents, who have testified that a summative rating system as a more effective measure.

“For many parents, the information [currently available] is overwhelming and doesn’t offer any way for them to evaluate or compare schools’ overall performance. I’ve met so many parents who feel frustrated by this report card, I’ve offered training to help them learn how to use it,” Khulia Pringle, a parent and education advocate, wrote in an op-ed in the Star Tribune last week.

The goal is to eventually make the supporting information available on a data dashboard, says Rep. Roz Peterson, a lead sponsor of an earlier version of the bill that was eventually rolled into HF 4328. The state has several decisions to make as the legislature considers the proposal, including what form the ratings system should take.

Right now the legislation asks for a scale of 1-100, but other ideas include a five-star system or an A-F grade. Minnesota’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, which was approved in January and mandates a school evaluation system, lists the state’s proposed system as “descriptive.” Schools will be described in one of four categories according to the plan: Needs Improvement, Average, Good, Great, and Excellent.

Regardless of what system is chosen, the goal is to ensure that the final score represents a broad and useful range of factors, Peterson said.

“I don’t like school districts to look like they have a scarlet letter,” Peterson told EdScoop. However, she said, “you have to start simple.”

As of the end of last year, 45 states had summative rating systems to describe school performance, according to the Education Commission. Pushback in Minnesota, said Jim Bartholomew, education policy director at the Minnesota Business Partnership, has largely amounted to a “knee-jerk” reaction out of fear that a ratings system would hurt low-proficiency districts more than it would help them by just weighing test results.

However, Bartholomew says, the proposal in the legislature right now places more value on achievement gap closure and student growth than overall proficiency, placing low-proficiency districts on an equal playing field with high-proficiency counterparts.

Peterson cited Wisconsin as an example of what a successful rating system and dashboard could look like.

“They have a 0-100 rating system, and they broke it down into what I call a dashboard, which is achievement and closing the achievement gaps — Minnesota has one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation, so that’s something that we’re trying to tackle but haven’t been successful at,” Peterson said. “Maybe [Minnesota] will use 0-100, maybe they’ll incorporate the stars, like Wisconsin does — [Wisconsin] does both — but it’s something that is understandable for people, as well as trying to give them a little bit more than just one simple measure,” she said.

The current legislative session ends on May 21. The bill, which passed the house on April 26, is currently in the state Senate’s finance committee.

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