MDE Publishes ESSA State Plan and Elicits Public Feedback

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) kicked off their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) public comment regional meetings at the Wilder Foundation in Saint Paul. Over 60 individuals gathered to hear Commissioner Cassellius and Michael Diedrich, MDE’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act Policy Specialist, share the state’s ESSA accountability plan, answer questions, and receive public input.

Education Evolving has extensively covered the state’s ESSA accountability plan development process, as well as reported in detail on several components of the plan. This blog post will, however, focus on a couple of the changes that Commissioner Cassellius indicated MDE has made to the plan since the July 20th ESSA hearing at the Legislature, as well as some concerns that have been raised by the public.

Change #1: From Proficiency Index Rate to Achievement Rates

Commissioner Cassellius indicated that one of the changes MDE has made is that they will use achievement rates, instead of a proficiency index rate, for the academic achievement indicator.

The initial version of the plan used a proficiency index rate, which would award schools with 1.0 point for every student that either “meets standards” or “exceeds standards” and 0.5 points for every student that “partially meets standards” on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs). However, in the updated plan, schools will not be awarded any points for students who “partially meets standards.” Rather, schools will only be awarded 1.0 points for every student who either “meets standards” or “exceeds standards.”

According to Commissioner Cassellius, MDE decided to make this change because legislators and stakeholder groups had indicated that the previous system was “confusing.” However, public commentary has indicated that there is some dissatisfaction with that decision.

Change #2: Students Who Opt-Out of MCAs Will Not Be Described As Failing to Meet Standards

The draft state accountability plan, which MDE released on July 17th, indicated that students who opted out of the state’s MCAs would “functionally count the same as students at the ‘does not meet standards’ achievement level.” However, the state’s updated plan indicates that “Students who do not participate in the test will be identified in state records and in communications with families as not participating; they will not be described as failing to meet standards.”

With that said, students who opt-out or do not participate in the MCAs will still be included in the denominator used to calculate the school’s academic achievement rate and they will not be awarded any points.

Public Comments Indicates that Concerns Remain

So far, much of the public feedback submitted on the plan has lauded MDE’s focus on equity, inclusion of 7-year high school graduation rates, and the creation of a manual that standardizes the identification, entrance, and exit decisions for English language learners. However, some concerns remain.

One concern is the exclusion of some form of a summative rating. A ninth grade teacher at Hiawatha Collegiate High School urged MDE to include a summative rating because the “citizens of Minnesota deserve a clear, direct, and transparent system to see where we are and how we will grow.”

Another concern is the use of a funnel approach to identify schools for comprehensive support. A second grade teacher from Global Academy indicated his support for a weighted point system and provided an example as explanation, “Under the funnel system, a school could be in the 1st percentile of academic achievement, advance to the next level of the funnel, happen to be in the 26th percentile for academic progress and be deemed not in need of comprehensive support.”

What’s Next for Minnesota’s ESSA Plan?

MDE has to submit the state accountability plan to US Department of Education (USDE) on September 18, 2017. However, before MDE submits the plan they must also do the following:

  • Submit the plan to Governor Dayton for his signature. However, if Governor Dayton has not signed the plan within 30 days of delivery, MDE can submit the plan to USDE without it.
  • Submit the plan to legislature’s education policy and finance committees. Even though this is required by the state’s 2017 Education Omnibus Bill, it is more of a courtesy as the committees do not need to approve the plan in order for MDE to submit it to USDE.

MDE will also host a series of additional public commentary meetings from 6:00-7:30 PM at the following locations:

  • Mankato: Thursday, August 17th at West High School Auditorium
  • Moorhead: Monday, August 21 at Moorhead High School Auditorium
  • Sartell: Tuesday, August 22 at Resource Training and Education
  • Duluth: Wednesday, August 23 at Denfield High School Cafeteria

These meetings are open to the public and you can register to attend one of them here. If you are unable to attend one of the public commentary meetings, the state’s current accountability plan is also published to the MDE website and is available for public comment until August 31st.

Education Evolving will continue to follow and report on the development of Minnesota’s ESSA state accountability plan.

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