Achievement & Assessment

Are Schools Closing the Achievement Gap?

By February 19, 2016 No Comments

“Minnesota schools not closing the achievement gap” read the front page headline in the Star Tribune last week. The article went on to imply that districts were failing to meet the World’s Best Workforce (WBWF) law and that some districts’ funding could be in jeopardy in the 2017-18 school year. Read the Star Tribune article.

MREA Executive Director Fred Nolan shares the complexities behind the story and why the headline is misleading:

Minnesota’s current waiver from the now expiring NCLB calls for closure within each school and district of every students’ group achievement gap by 50 percent in 2017 and 85 percent graduation rate for each student group by 2020, with an overall graduation rate of 90 percent. District data on this has been public since October.  View achievement by region. (MDE refers to this as district profiles).

Target Index

One spreadsheet in these profiles is entitled Achievement Gap Closure. For every district, each students’ group Proficiency Index and a Target Index for 2014-15 are listed. The Target Index is based on straight line progression to the 50 percent gap closure for each group in each district.

Student groups may be closing the achievement gap, but if they are not closing fast enough and don’t meet the target, there is a negative number in the “Difference” column.

The correct headline should have been:

“Minnesota schools are not closing the achievement gaps fast enough to meet arbitrary targets.”

But alas, way too many words.

What’s Next?

The occasion that called attention to this report was Commissioner Cassellius’ report on the World’s Best Workforce, which she presented to the Senate E-12 Budget Division Committee.

The WBWF legislation called for every district to set its own goals and describe how they would be measured. It rejects the idea of statewide imposed targets in favor of goals that are locally owned with parent and community involvement and MDE guidance and technical assistance.

Due to the individual nature of WBWF, MDE pulled 48 staff off their day jobs to review every district and charter’s report that was submitted by December 1 on the required template.

Feedback to Districts

District superintendents can expect a customized feedback report from MDE in the next couple of weeks. These reports were from goals and progress for the 2014-15 school year. They will not have much impact on this school year, but hopefully they will be of assistance in planning for 2016-17.

Next year is an important year, because that will be the third year of WBWF. Within any three year period, the Commissioner “in collaboration with an identified district [not making sufficient progress towards improving teaching and learning for all students], may require the district to use up to 2 percent of its basic general education revenue per fiscal year during the three years to implement targeted strategies.” (MDE presentation, Sept 2015)

This is where nuances matter. Districts may lose their independent ability to direct their 2 percent staff development funding, but MREA and other organization worked hard in the 2013 Legislative session to have district keep their funding and for adding ‘in collaboration’ to the language.

Such is the current state of accountability in Minnesota. The passage of ESSA provides an opportunity to revisit many of the basic assumptions while continuing to test and disaggregate data.

Watch for more information from MREA on ESSA and MDE’s involvement of stakeholders over the next six to nine months in developing an ESSA implementation plan.


MREA thanks Stephanie Graff, MDE Chief Accountability Officer, in providing clarity on this issue for this article.