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Helmut Schmidt, Published May 22 2012

Ellen Hopkins fares poorly in Minnesota ratings

MOORHEAD – Several area schools – those that serve areas with high levels of poverty – earned high marks for improvement in Minnesota’s new school ratings system, though a few were tagged as being at the back of the pack.

Among area schools earning a “reward” rating for high performance in the Multiple Measurement Ratings system are Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Junior High School, Fertile-Beltrami Elementary, Frazee Elementary, Norman County West elementary and high schools, Norman County East Elementary and New York Mills High School.

Other area schools will have to do more work.

Mahnomen Elementary School was designated a “priority” school for its low MMR performance.

Moorhead’s Ellen Hopkins Elementary and Pelican Rapids’ Viking Elementary were each rated as “focus” schools, those that had the poorest showing in reducing the gap between the achievement of whites and other racial or ethnic groups.

The new MMR approach looks at four categories: academic proficiency, student growth, progress in closing achievement gaps and graduation rates.

Overall, Minnesota recognized 127 schools Tuesday for their good work in closing achievement gaps and designated 127 others as needing extra help for developing turnaround plans.

The new ratings are an alternative to the federal No Child Left Behind program, which relies on one high-stakes annual test of students’ academic ability to determine if a school is making adequate yearly progress.

The MMR ratings evaluate only the performance of Title I schools – those where at least 40 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, a common measurement of poverty.

The highest-performing 15 percent of Title I schools in the state, or 127, were named “reward” schools. The 10 percent of Title I schools doing the poorest on Minnesota’s achievement gap, 85 in all, were designated “focus” schools. The 42 schools that make up the bottom 5 percent were designated with the “priority” status.

“It is a relief. I do think it’s a step in the right direction, going away from the process that has been in place,” said Bryan Thygeson, superintendent for the D-G-F School District.

Thygeson said D-G-F has put a lot of work into getting teachers to collaborate in what are called professional learning communities. “There’s a lot of effort to identify individual needs of students. We have a lot of work done in all of the grade levels,” to better focus resources and learning strategies, he said.

Lynne Kovash, superintendent of Moorhead schools, said the district will look at what strategies need to narrow the achievement gaps between students at Ellen Hopkins, including after-school programming.

“We’re going to continue to do the emphasis on reading, early reading” and giving students support, Kovash said. Some students “need to be accelerated faster than others,” she said.

The new system is very different from No Child Left Behind, she said.

“It’s not just on poor test scores. They’re looking at that achievement gap” between whites and the other subgroups. “That is one that we’ll work toward narrowing,” Kovash said.

Minnesota won a waiver from the strict requirements of No Child Left Behind in February in return for developing a more flexible system less dependent on tests to determine whether schools are adequately serving poor and minority students.

Nearly half of Minnesota’s 2,255 schools failed to meet the No Child Left Behind benchmarks in 2010. Many of them faced potential penalties that included forced staffing changes and expensive requirements to provide free after-school tutoring or busing to better schools.

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said the new system is a fairer and more accurate way to hold schools accountable.

“Rather than relying on a failed system that doled out punitive labels and didn’t tell the whole story about schools, today we’re recognizing our highest-performing schools and making a commitment to stand behind those schools most in need,” Cassellius said in a statement.

The Mankato, Minnetonka and Wayzata districts were tied for the most reward schools at four apiece.


The Associated Press contributed to this report

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583


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