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Does New School Scoring System "Tell The Whole Story?"

School board member says no.

Five of Southwest Minneapolis' public schools may be looking less than stellar this week after a labeled them as schools with "extreme" achievement gaps. State officials say the new rating is not a punishment, , with their help. However, a school board member is criticizing parts of Minnesota's new yardstick, saying it "doesn't tell the whole story."

"I'm worried people are going to start comparing schools to other schools" using the new rankings, said school board member Rebecca Gagnon. "A lot of (high poverty) schools don't have the same levels of poverty and ELL students as ours, so they will look much better in that category."

Still, Gagnon said that she thinks the new measurement system will give the city's schools valuable data to help them improve.

Gagnon and Eric Mohlo, the district's Director of School Planning, both took issue with the state's use of 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 statewide test results when compiling the ratings released last week. 

"It's frustrating," Mohlo said. "We're trying to parse data that feels a little separate from reality."

Revised rankings based on this year's test results won't be available until the fall, after schools have submitted their improvement plans to the state.

In some cases, this seemingly insignificant element could have a major impact on a school's ranking. Washburn High School, for example, was rated a "Focus" school partly based on data from the year before its student body began to change dramatically after its attendance area was rezoned to include more students from Southwest Minneapolis. Previously, it had drawn students from across the city.

The new system of stats didn't hurt every Southwest Minneapolis school, though: Anthony Middle School was named one of the top middle schools in the state.

Overall, Mohlo said individual schools were still digesting the data—comparing it with their own data, and trying to figure out precisely which student groups are having trouble.

"Being a 'Priority' or a 'Focus' school doesn't mean everything's broken," said Sam Kramer of the Minnesota Department of Education. "There is some exciting stuff going on at each one of those schools but there's work that needs to be done. Most will benefit from the type of support the department will be able to provide."

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