Waconia gets first look at MMR scores

By Todd Moen, Editor

No Child Left Behind is being left behind in Minnesota, which was granted a two-year waiver from NCLB by the U.S. Department of Education in February and is now transitioning to a new system of school recognition, accountability and support.

The focus of the new system is to close the achievement gap between different student subgroups and promote high growth for all students. Specifically, officials would like to reduce the achievement gap by 50 percent in six years.

At the heart of this new system is a tool called Multiple Measurement Rating (MMR), which will gauge school performance through the examination of four areas: Proficiency, Student Growth, Achievement Gap Closure, and Graduation Rate.

Under the new system, academic standards, assessments (MCA tests), public reporting, calculating Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), and disaggregating data (among different subgroups) remain the same as NCLB. Differences include new AYP targets, the elimination of sanctions for not making AYP, greater flexibility with federal funds, and flexibility in school improvement planning.

According to information provided by the Minnesota Department of Education, officials believe that MMR offers a better, fairer way to measure how schools are doing while removing those punitive sanctions that were a part of NCLB. The new system also provides support for schools that are most in need of extra assistance.

One condition of the waiver is that MMR is to be calculated for all schools in the state before the end of this school year using previous years’ data, and to designate Reward, Focus and Priority schools based on their MMR calculations. These designations are only applicable to schools that receive Title funding.

Reward Schools are the top 15 percent performing schools in the state. Focus Schools are the bottom 10 percent schools that show the largest achievement gap in the state for one or more groups of students. Priority Schools are the bottom 5 percent of schools on the MMR. Both Focus and Priority schools will be given extra assistance to improve.

Under NCLB, schools received a designation of "failing" or "not failing" and that led to many schools being mislabeled as failures despite performing at high levels.

Minnesota schools recently received their initial MMR data and school designations based on data from the 2010 and 2011 school years.

In Waconia, four schools – Bayview, Southview, Clearwater, and the high school – received MMRs. Southview (90 percent) and Bayview (89.01 percent) received high MMRs and were designated as Reward Schools. Bayview and Southview are the only schools in the Waconia School District that receive Title funding and thus, the potential to receive a designation under the new system.

Clearwater received a 61.03 percent MMR. Although it is not eligible to receive the Reward School designation, the cut score for that designation was 79.05 percent.

One way Clearwater can improve its MMR is by improving its Achievement Gap Closure measurement. This would be done by improving the scores from students in the targeted subgroups of Special Education and Free-Reduced Lunch.

According to Kathy Oliphant, Director of Teaching and Learning for Waconia Public Schools, there is already a plan in motion at Clearwater to improve this area.

Waconia High School received a 56.59 percent MMR. The cut score for designation eligible schools at the Reward level was 76.15 percent. Oliphant said the high school could improve its MMR by raising the measurements of Student Growth (showing improvement from year to year that’s greater than the state average) and Achievement Gap Closure (again in the targeted subgroups of Special Education and Free-Reduced Lunch).

In August, school districts will receive another MMR designation that will be based on the test data from this year.

Oliphant said that overall, she would echo most educators and district leaders that the switch from NCLB to the MMR system is a welcome change for all.

"The categories in the new MMR system are much more useful to us in terms of program planning and school improvement efforts," she said. "As a district, we do very well in terms of proficiency at all levels. This new way of reporting does reveal for us a need to focus more on student growth from one year to the next, as well as closing the achievement gap for our targeted subgroups."

Oliphant is optimistic that the new system will pay off as Waconia looks to continue its tradition of academic excellence.

"We have strong leadership, committed teachers, and professional learning team established at all school sites," Oliphant said. "We will be anxious to receive our next MMR designation in August as this data will drive our school improvement planning in the upcoming year."