Others’ Opinion: Proposed system for ranking Minnesota schools needs work

Published 8:27 am Monday, April 23, 2018

Minnesota families and students need and deserve to have easily understandable information about state schools and districts. But a legislative plan to mandate rankings based largely on test scores is not the best way to do it.

State House and Senate bills would require the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to develop a five-star academic achievement rating system based primarily on standardized test performance. Each school and district would be assigned a star rating, as well as an academic achievement score based on a zero-to-100 scale.

A state five-star or A-B-C school rating system would return Minnesota to the kind of ranking that was done under federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) rules. Arguably, the most egregious part of NCLB was the requirement to rank schools based on the annual yearly progress solely from test scores. Parents and others were rightly outraged when a school was labeled as failing if one or two smaller groups of kids were absent, opted out or did poorly on tests.

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That rating system was more harmful than helpful for more than a decade. There is no reason to resurrect a close cousin of that ranking system now that NCLB is no longer in place.

Besides, test score information is already available as part of the online MDE school report card. In addition, when the annual statewide scores are released, news coverage by the Star Tribune and other media outlets includes that information, often with ways to compare schools.

Test score results are important and should remain part of state school reports. But parents need other information to make good decisions for their kids. That said, we’d agree with backers of the bills that the presentation of school data could be less complicated. To that end, MDE is working with a committee of educators and parents to develop a dashboard report card that would include test scores, graduation rates and other data families can use to evaluate schools.

Language added to the legislation this week would make it somewhat less prescriptive about data presentation. However, rather than impose any system of largely test-score-driven rankings, lawmakers should wait for the MDE dashboard. The goal should be to provide useful information that will improve education — and schools — in Minnesota.