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  Monday January 26th, 2015    

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Schools without achievement progress will face consequences (11/20/2013)
By Sarah Squires
'It's our new world

Minnesota has a new goal in education, spelled out in the 2013 "World's Best Workforce" legislation: all third graders should be proficient in reading, all students should graduate from high school, and all public high school graduates should be ready to enter college or the workforce. The achievement gap among student ethnic, racial, and income groups, according to the legislative directive, must close.

Bills passed during the legislative session also removed proficiency testing requirements for students to graduate, and replaced them with college readiness tests (without a required proficiency score) and more general performance measures for school districts. Under the new legislation, if districts are unable to demonstrate improvements in teaching and learning over time, they may face financial consequences, with up to two percent of general funds commandeered by the state and directed toward state-approved strategies to help boost district achievement.

In order to meet those goals, school districts must create detailed plans that will guide the way. On Monday, the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Curriculum Committee looked at the required plans to be submitted to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) by January, recognizing the vast amount of work that must be undertaken to craft the plan, then implement it.

According to an MDE timeline demonstrating where districts should be in the process, WAPS is about six months behind in the work needed to create the plan, WAPS Curriculum Director Jenny Bushman told committee members.

The teeth

The legislation allows for financial consequences for districts that do not show satisfactory improvements over a three-year period. The MDE Commissioner will identify districts that have not made sufficient progress toward their goals over three consecutive years. The new law, according to the MDE, "allows the commissioner, in consultation with the affected district, to require the district to set aside up to two percent of its basic general education revenue per fiscal year during the following three school years to implement commissioner-specified strategies to improve progress in realizing its educational goals." The commissioner, under the legislation, must consider districts' budget constraints and legal obligations when directing the use of such funds.

The plan

The plan, explained Bushman, is similar to many of the plans the district currently uses, such as its literacy plan, its Title 1 plan, and student achievement plan. Synthesizing that information into one, cohesive plan, however, will be difficult, she told the district's Curriculum Committee Monday.

World's Best Workforce plans must identify goals and benchmarks for student achievement year-to-year. Because the state does not provide standardized tests for each content area in each grade, Best Workforce plans should also identify the way the district plans to assess student achievement, and how teachers will respond when such assessments show students are missing certain content. WAPS is still working on developing these kinds of assessments to help measure student progress in a variety of content areas.

The MDE, explained Bushman, will not provide any sort of template that would define exactly what these plans should contain, adding further difficulty to the process.

Bushman explained that she, along with Superintendent Scott Hannon, had recently attended an MDE training on the Best Workforce plan requirements, and were caught off-guard by the legislation that has not made many headlines since it was passed last summer. "Everybody in the room was kind of like, 'Where did this come from?'" explained Bushman.

Along with the plan, districts must develop achievement teams at the building level, which Bushman told Curriculum Committee members might be the undoing of the committee itself. The district-wide Curriculum Committee might continue meeting on a quarterly basis to oversee the building-level committees' work, she said. The site-specific building teams must also include community members, Bushman added, which could create some problems with the potential disclosure of private data when educators would like to discuss the progress of individual students. "How specific are you on student data when you have a group of community members sitting in front of you?" Bushman said. "I don't know if anyone really has the answers to it, but it's our reality. It's our new world." 


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