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Minnesota’s school accountability plan wins federal approval

By Solvejg Wastvedt

MPR News/90.1 FM

Federal education officials on Wednesday approved Minnesota’s new plan for holding schools accountable.

Under the plan, the state will evaluate schools on five factors: state test scores, how many students move up a level on state tests, graduation rates, progress for students learning English and school attendance.

State officials will flag the lowest-performing schools and require them to develop state-monitored improvement plans. The new ratings start this summer.

Schools flagged multiple times as low-performing will be required to direct some of their federal funding toward improvement plans. Those schools will also undergo yearly state audits and get access to increased staff training and regional specialists.

“(The plan) ensures we are providing the right level of support for every student, teacher and school that needs it,” Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said in a statement.

In a letter to state officials, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said Minnesota’s plan “warrants full approval” under the 2015 federal Every Student Succeeds Act. That law replaced the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind Act, which pushed states to evaluate schools on student test scores. The new law seeks to broaden definitions of school success.

Unlike in the past, the plan holds schools accountable for progress non-English speaking students make toward learning the language. It also targets high schools with low graduation rates either overall or for students of a particular race, disability status or income level.

The plan drops the yearly, overall school scores many parents are used to seeing. That move drew criticism from some state lawmakers. Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, wrote federal officials in October urging them to reject Minnesota’s plan. They argued it lacked “transparency and clarity.”