New Ulm schools receive no designations under new state accountability system

NEW ULM – Although some local schools were assigned percentage ratings, New Ulm public school sites are not officially part of a system that designates schools in the state as “reward, “celebration-eligible,” “priority,” “continuous improvement” or “focus.”

The list of schools falling under each label was released Tuesday.

Under an accountability system phased in after the state received a No Child Left Behind waiver, the Minnesota Department of Education assigns the designations based on four main factors: student proficiency, student growth, a school’s success in reducing the achievement gap between majority and minority students, and a school’s graduation rate.

Broadly, one type of rating, called “multiple measurements rating,” or MMR, refers to all students in a school. The other, called a “focus rating,” or FR, specifically targets indicators for traditionally lower-performing student groups (for example, minorities).

Only schools that receive federal Title I (poverty-based) funds receive these designations.

“Reward” and “celebration-eligible” designations are given to top-performing schools.

“Priority, “continuous improvement” and “focus” designations are given to schools deemed in need of support.

“Reward” designations are given to schools in the top 15 percent of Title I schools statewide, and “celebration-eligible” designations to the next 25 percent.

“Priority” refers to the lowest 5 percent of schools.

A “focus” school is one in the bottom 10 percent of schools statewide, based just on the FR measure.

“Continuous improvement” refers to schools in the bottom 25 percent not already identified as “priority” or “focus.”

The reasons New Ulm schools are not part of the listings are technical. Washington Elementary and the High School do not get a formal designation because they do not receive Title I funds.

The High School, however, reports percentages commensurate with the highest statewide (see table).

Jefferson Elementary has a Title I program but does not receive a designation because of its grade configuration. The ratings look at student grade-to-grade growth starting in third grade. Third grade is Jefferson’s highest, so grade-to-grade growth cannot be measured within the same building, and a complete rating cannot be calculated.

Of area schools, Sleepy Eye Elementary and Springfield Elementary received the highest designation, a “reward” school.

The next-highest designation, “celebration-eligible,” was awarded to Comfrey Elementary, G.F.W. Elementary and Red Rock Central Elementary, among others.

St. James Elementary received a “priority” rating.

Lafayette Charter School received a “continuous improvement” rating.

Most area schools did not receive any designation.

In a conference call Tuesday morning, state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius stressed the non-punitive nature of the ratings.

She stressed that the state’s “concentrated, targeted” assistance to schools in need of support, rather than on penalizing schools, is paying off, and “priority” and “focus” designations are decreasing.

Cassellius will be visiting top performing schools in the near future.

The state would like to develop mechanisms for sharing of best practices, she noted.

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