Local schools make the grade on state School Report Cards

After last year’s rating of Maple Lake Elementary as a five-star school, expectations were high that the elementary would continue its ranking at that level and the first report cards for Maple Lake Junior High and High School would also bring good news.

The results released last Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Education showed that Maple Lake’s elementary, junior high and high school were making adequate yearly progress and earned top scores in several areas. But the overall rating showed four stars for the elementary and three for the junior high and high school.

“I was disappointed in the three stars,” said High School Principal Mary James. “I thought we had earned four. But I’m pleased with the other high ratings. We received five stars in the things we can control.”

The overall ratings are based on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment scores, with each school which meets federal accountability requirements awarded a base of three stars. The elementary, junior high and high school all met that standard. Maple Lake Elementary received an additional star in Reading for having more than 30% scoring in the top level on the MCAs and an additional star in Math for outstanding performance compared to schools with similar numbers of students receiving free and reduced lunch.   In other areas, the local schools received top honors.

Maple Lake Elementary, Junior High and High School all received five stars in the area of School Safety Policies and Programs. The elementary received only three stars in the area of Advanced Academic Opportunities because it does not offer services and other opportunities to gifted and talented students due to school budget cuts. However, both the junior high and high school received five stars in that area and the high school earned five stars in the area of School Participation.

And if local educators were disappointed in Maple Lake’s overall rating, the news was far worse at hundreds of schools throughout the state. This year, 472 schools did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (the three star level). Included in that number are 144 high schools, 94 middle schools, 124 elementary schools, and 106 alternative learning centers. These numbers far exceed the 143 schools that failed to make AYP last year, but middle schools and high schools were not included in the rating system in 2003.

“There are a couple of notable items regarding the Minnesota Department of Education’s report cards,” said Maple Lake Superintendent Mark Redemske. “We are glad we met the federal accountability requirements for this year by making adequate yearly progress. We would have preferred to have earned five stars at both the elementary and high school.   However, there are 472 schools and 150 school districts in Minnesota that didn’t make AYP through the current report card system. We want to excel in every aspect of our school system, so we will look at the data associated with the report cards and make changes that we feel will lead to better scores on these report cards.”

But because of the high number of schools failing to make AYP, the ratings system has drawn considerable criticism for setting standards that are unrealistic.

“It is also interesting to see how much controversy the MDE’s report card system has created,” Redemske said. “Public schools should certainly be held accountable for the quality of education they provide. Under the current system, some high-quality schools have been identified as failing to make AYP due to falling short in a single category. I’m hoping that the Department looks at the concerns that have been plastered all over newspapers in the state to see if the best system is in place or whether modifications are necessary.”

James said the ratings based on a single set of tests fail to take into account other factors which could affect student performance. “Not everyone takes tests well and not everyone is having a good day on test day,” she said. “Parents need to look at their own child and see how they are doing.

“And it doesn’t take into account the other good things that are going on within a school. Maple Lake is so much more than scores on state tests.”