Austin Public Schools get new state grades

Austin’s schools may have a new rating system, but the latest data is a year old.

Minnesota Department of Education officials released the Multiple Measurements Rating system Tuesday. State officials designed MMR to replace the Adequate Yearly Progress score system under the federal No Child Left Behind law, specifically changing the scoring to reflect growth instead of benchmarks and getting rid of penalties for Title 1 schools unable to make AYP, among other things.

“This is all essentially old data that’s establishing a baseline,” said John Alberts, Austin Public School’s education services director. “It’s data that we’ve already looked at in many ways and responded to.”

Only one of Austin’s schools — the Austin Area Learning Center — earned more than 50 percent of a total Multiple Measurement Rating score. The AALC and Ellis Middle School scored about 71 percent and 58 percent respectively in Focus Ratings.

The new MMR system consists of two main ratings, calculated in part with Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment scores from 2010 and 2011. The MMR benchmark reflects how well Austin did based on the academic growth students had between 2010 and 2011, Austin’s graduation rate for those years, the achievement gap between white and non-white or non-privileged students, and whether Austin students are meeting new MCA score benchmarks.

There’s also a Focus Rating, which determines how well schools are focusing on lowering the achievement gap. State officials use the same achievement gap data under the MMR while also looking at how well non-white and non-privileged students performed on the MCA.

MMR also classifies schools into groups such as Reward schools, which are the top 15 percent of schools in the state that receive federal aid for its number of students in poverty, Focus schools, the 10 percent of schools which contribute the most to the state’s achievement gap, and Priority schools, which are the 5 percent lowest scoring Minnesota schools.

No Austin school was named a reward school, but MDE classified Southgate Elementary as a focus school. As a result, Austin staff will have to submit a plan to increase Southgate’s FR and decrease the achievement gap among Southgate students by Sept. 1.

District officials already made changes to improve MCA scores, including hiring math and reading intervention specialists for elementary schools, concentrating on intervention classes at the middle school and high school level, and making teaching initiatives like the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol — a teaching method that studies show help English Language Learners as well as general education students succeed — district-wide. The district won’t know whether its efforts to increase MCA scores pay off until this year’s MMR scores are released in the fall.

The state will release new labels for other schools in the middle of the achievement pack in August, but under the new system, a much smaller number of schools will be identified as needing intervention.

“We just didn’t have the capacity to provide meaningful support to all those schools,” said Sam Kramer, federal education policy specialist for the state department of education, of the more than 1,000 schools that received past designations. “The emphasis is now going to be on the Focus and Priority schools.”

The new measures continue to show the state’s broad gap in achievement between white and minority students and the impact poverty has on schools.

More than two-thirds of the Priority and Focus schools have a high number of poor and minority students, the state data shows. The Reward schools are more varied, with just 10 percent having high poverty populations. Twenty-one percent of Reward schools have lower poverty levels but still qualify for federal aid.

Supporters say the new system is more nuanced, giving a clearer picture of how well a school educates all students. Critics say the new measurements don’t hold schools accountable for meeting academic goals and focus too much on growth.

The new grade: Austin Public Schools’ new ratings under the Minnesota Department of Education’s Multiple Measurement Ratings system.

Multiple measurement rating (MMR), Focus rating (FR)

Banfield Elementary:
MMR: 34.02%
FR: 41.93%

Neveln Elementary:
MMR: 21.12%
FR: 42.07%

Southgate Elementary:
MMR: 26.08%
FR: 23.35%

Sumner Elementary:
MMR: 13.1%
FR: 38.29%

Ellis Middle School:
MMR: 41.4%
FR: 57.58%

Austin High School:
MMR: 49.63%
FR: 26.28%

Austin Area Learning Center:
MMR: 58.49%
FR: 70.47%

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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