MARSHALL - School districts across the state received valuable information from the Minnesota Department of Education this week, giving administrators and staff plenty to digest.
While the MDE is still required to release Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) data, which is primarily a pass or fail accountability system, educators can also absorb information from the Multiple Measurement Ratings (MMR), which was implemented under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver.
While the previous AYP model focused solely on proficiency, the MMR gauges four components: proficiency, student growth, achievement gap closure and graduation rate. Schools also get an annual Focus Rating (FR) that measures proficiency and growth of minority students (American Indian, Asian, Black and Hispanic) and students who are receiving special services (free and reduced lunch, special education and English Learner students). Percentages are generated for each school by dividing the total number of points earned by the total number of points possible.
"I think it's a step in the right direction by our state that we are talking about growth," Marshall Superintendent Klint Willert said. "That's certainly consistent with what our district has said is important in measuring student learning."
This year marks the second straight year that MMR has been used in the state. With the release of new data, gathered from the 2011-12 school year, schools will have the opportunity to compare results from a year ago. For the most part, Willert likes what he's seen so far.
"Overall, we're pleased that the results at three of the four centers (schools) increased," Willert said. "We saw a pretty significant increase at Marshall Middle School and with MMR at West Side (Elementary). Park Side (Elementary) feeds into that, so those two go together. MECLA (Marshall East Campus Learning Alternative) also saw an increase in MMR. That was all very positive."
MMS saw the largest increase in MMR results, jumping from 65.92 percent (from the initial, combined rating using data from 2010 and 2011) to 89.56 this year. At West Side, totals rose from 31.37 percent to 46.78 this year. At MECLA, the MMR improved from 82.71 percent to 87.69.
"Those numbers do indicate that we've shown an increase in our student results," Willert said. "When people ask if our school system is improving, if our students are learning and if our students are showing growth, I can very affirmatively say 'yes.'"
Marshall High School ratings dropped considerably, falling from 52.26 percent a year ago to 35.65 this year. While concerned, Willert said he felt strongly that after gathering all the information together, positive changes could be made.
"The high school did see some struggles in terms of the MMR," he said. "It went down rather significantly and that's a reason for us to take pause and reflect on what we are doing. We'll be pulling together our high school data team and we'll go through data specifically and figure out the factors that went into that."
In time, the curriculum teams will dissect every aspect of the 2012 data. Early indications, though, show that 11th-grade math students, not only at MHS, but statewide, did not perform as well as expected. In addition to keeping in mind that targets are always moving, different groups of students are being tested and results are a one-time snapshot of assessments, Willert pointed out that the lack of motivation to do well on the test could be a factor.
"Students that take the test are juniors and the test has very little meaning to them at that point in their academic career," he said. "It's tough to say if they're motivated to take it."
Willert suggested using caution when analyzing the high-stakes testing data.
"We look at many more factors to know if students are learning," he said. "Taking this test doesn't necessarily say they're learning."
Of the 59,302 Minnesota students in 11th grade this year, 42.5 percent displayed proficiency on their math test compared to 48.6 percent last year. MHS students scored a 36.9 percent this year. And, of the students who were not proficient at the beginning of the year, 98 percent remained that way.
"When you look at our student performance in math, Marshall fell below the state average," Willert said. "We haven't dived into the sub-strands yet, but when you look at high school math, we know that overall, our students didn't perform quite as well in the statistics and probability strand."
Overall, for students in grades 4-8 and 11th grade at Marshall, 63.4 percent were proficient in math. Sixth-grade results showed that 56 percent of students were not proficient in math, but 70 percent of students recorded high growth results. Only 9 percent of students showed low growth.
Overall in reading, Marshall fared well, surpassing the state average of 76.0 percent with its 76.7 score.
"We're actually encouraged by what we saw, being above the state average," Willert said. "As the commissioner has shared, one of the ongoing concerns has been the relatively stagnant student performance in reading. Across the state, we haven't seen the growth that we saw in math."
Willert believes that there are many factors that contribute to the stunted reading results. At Marshall, he said, reading continues to be a strong focus.
"Our Response to Intervention has been a strong component," Willert said. "We've also added a (second) reading coach. Our goal is to enhance and improve what we're doing in regards to reading."
Next year, Willert said, the state will be compensating school districts that have a strong focus on literacy.
"We can receive revenue based on growth and student proficiency in literacy, called literacy aid," he said. "It's for third- and fourth-grade levels only."
Since none of the schools in the Marshall district fell into the bottom 25 percent (Priority, Focus and Continuous Improvement designations) or the top 40 percent (Reward and Celebration) statewide, no designation was assigned for the second straight year.