Education overhaul means ‘more community engagement’

August 19, 2017 GMT

With federal education changes set to go into effect in a year, Minnesota is doing its part to prepare.

Southeast Minnesota educators gathered at John Marshall High School Wednesday night to get a preview of changes coming to Minnesota’s education policy, due to a 2015 federal education overhaul. Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius made the trip to Rochester as part of a statewide tour to get feedback on a state draft plan that was released Aug. 1.

The draft plan details how Minnesota will comply with the federal changes — replacing the previous law called No Child Left Behind with the Every Student Succeeds Act passed in 2015 under President Barack Obama — and is due to the U.S. Department of Education for review at the end of the month.

ESSA was passed “with the intention of giving states and districts additional flexibility and decision-making power,” according to MDE. States must develop plans to address education standards, assessments, school and district accountability, support for struggling schools, support for educators and must ensure “well-rounded” education for all students that prepares them for college and career.

Thought some changes have already gone into effect, the majority will go into effect in the 2018-19 school year. The biggest shifts include a greater focus on equity and what’s being referred to as a “well-rounded” education, which is an attempt at drawing focus to subjects that states don’t test for, such as art or physical education.

“What that looks like in each district will be different, which means that districts will need to step up their community engagement in order to shape their district plans so they are compliant,” said Josh Collins, director of communication for MDE, by email Thursday.

A greater focus on equity

The increased focus on equity will include support for more struggling schools than in the past.

Cassellius estimates about 400 schools will receive some extra state support, based on their performance, many more than the about 85 schools the state works with at any given time.

That support could include professional development or other efforts focused on students who aren’t performing as well.

The state will also be required to put an additional focus on English learners by developing a standard entrance and exit procedure for those students. Their progress, or “growth,” will be tracked and measured on a trajectory toward proficiency.

Useful data and more of it

Local educators and community members responded to the plan by asking for more data, especially locally, because it shows what’s working and what isn’t.

“How do we really get the data to find the bright spots?” asked Audrey Betcher, director of the Rochester Public Library. “That data is so critical, so anything that can be done would be very helpful.”

Betcher is on the planning team of a community effort called “Cradle to Career” that is aimed at boosting literacy by looking at what programs and initiatives in the community, based on data, work for students.

But some of what’s being collected may change.

Districts will be held accountable for their performance using a variety of measures, including high school graduation rates, academic achievement on math, reading and science assessments, progress toward English Language proficiency

Standardized assessments will continue — the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment will remain the test used for reading and math in grades 3-8 and in high school, and science in grades 5, 8 and in high school.

Educators are considering using the ACT or another standardized test in the place of the MCA at the high school level, as the number of students opting out of the statewide assessment has posed a problem for gauging progress in the past, Cassellius said.

Part of that includes replacing what was called the Multiple Measurements Rating, or MMR, with another measure of district progress — though what exactly that will include has yet to be determined.

Other changes include categorizing student graduation rates, now instead of 4-, 5-, and 6-year graduation rates, the state will use a 4-year and 7-year graduation rate to keep track of students.

RPS Superintendent Michael Muñoz voiced support for that change.

“One of the biggest issues we have in education is that we think all kids, year-by-year, grow that way,” he said.