MDE Identifies Schools for Support Under New ESSA Plan. What Does That Entail?

On August 30, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) released the first round of 485 schools identified to receive support under the state’s new North Star accountability system, as required by the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Specifically, schools can be identified for comprehensive support, targeted support, or more general support from MDE.

Immediately following the release, news coverage spoke about the new accountability system overall, provided names of the identified schools, and highlighted the state’s unchanging and persistent achievement gaps.

And while the data release and identified schools received widespread coverage, there was little said about what actual supports the schools will receive from MDE and, more specifically, the Regional Centers of Excellence (RCE).

This post will provide an overview of the processes for identifying schools for support and MDE’s RCEs, as well as a deep dive into the two main levels of school support—comprehensive and targeted support.

How Are Schools Identified for Support? Glad You Asked.

As we have previously written, MDE used a three-stage process for identifying most schools for support. The processes are somewhat different between elementary/middle schools and high schools because they use different indicators in the second stage. The processes are described below.

Elementary/Middle Schools

  • Stage 1: Title I schools in the bottom twenty-five percent in proficiency for at least one of the academic indicators—mathematics achievement, reading achievement, and/or progress towards EL proficiency—were moved onto Stage 2.
  • Stage 2: Title I schools in the bottom twenty-five percent for either mathematics growth or reading growth were moved onto Stage 3.
  • Stage 3: Consistent attendance (aka chronic absenteeism) was used to identify the lowest 5% of Title 1 elementary and middle schools.

High Schools

  • Stage 1: Title I schools in the bottom twenty-five percent for proficiency in at least one of the academic indicators—mathematics achievement, reading achievement, and/or progress towards EL proficiency—were moved onto Stage 2.
  • Stage 2A: Title I high schools in the bottom half according to their four-year graduation rates were moved onto to Stage 2B.
  • Stage 2B: Title I high schools in the bottom half according to their seven-year graduation rates were moved onto Stage 3.
  • Stage 3: Consistent attendance (aka chronic absenteeism) was used to identify the lowest 5% of Title 1 high schools.

Importantly, the North Star accountability system does not assign summative ratings to schools. This is different from Minnesota’s former accountability system, the Multiple Measurements Rating system, which had the summative ratings—Reward, Celebration Eligible, Continuous Improvement, Focus, and Priority.

An Overview: Regional Centers of Excellence

After schools are identified, they receive support from the RCEs. In total, Minnesota has six RCEs that are operated through the state’s six service cooperatives. The RCEs were first developed by MDE in 2012, after the state received a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Law.

The Minnesota legislature formally recognized the RCEs during the 2013 legislative session when legislation was passed and signed by Governor Dayton. Under state law, RCEs are charged with assisting and supporting local school boards, districts, and public schools in “implementing research-based interventions and practices to increase the students’ achievement within a region.”

Prior to the state’s new ESSA accountability plan, the RCEs supported schools identified as Focus or Priority. Now, the RCEs provide support to schools identified for either Comprehensive Support and Improvement or Targeted Support, each of which will be discussed more below.

An important distinction between CSI and TS schools is that CSI schools are identified by going through the three-stage identification process in its entirety, as well as by four-year graduation rates. TS schools, on the other hand, are identified by having, for any indicator in the three-stage process, one or more student groups—Ex. English learners, special education, Black, Latino, etc.—in the bottom quartile or that are performing similarly to the CSI schools.

Comprehensive Support and Improvement: MDE’s Most Intensive Form of Support

There are two ways schools can be identified for Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI):

  1. The lowest 5 percent of Title I schools, as identified through the three-stage process described above. MDE identified 34 elementary, seven middle, and six high schools for this support.
  2. Any public high school, regardless of whether they do or do not receive Title I funds, with a four-year graduation rate below 67 percent overall for any student group. MDE identified 152 high schools to receive support in this area.

Schools identified for CSI are required to send the following to MDE by March 1, 2019:

  • Comprehensive Needs Assessment Summary Report: Under ESSA, the district or charter school is responsible for leading and supporting a comprehensive needs assessment process for schools identified for CSI.
  • School Improvement Plan: The primary purpose of the plan is to identify strategies, practices, or programs that can be implemented and that will have the highest likelihood of success. According to MDE’s School Improvement Plan Overview, schools should select strategies that are “informed by research as having a desired impact in addressing root causes for the intended student population.”
  • District Checklist and Approval for Comprehensive Support and Improvement Schools

The school improvement plan must be developed by each school’s improvement team, which should include the voices of educators, staff, and community members. Additionally, district staff should also be represented on the team or have a clear communication pathway between the school and its district. Each school’s improvement team is accountable for making the school improvement work happen, including the development and implementation of the School Improvement plan.

With regard to RCEs, each school identified in this category will be assigned an “advocate” who will work with the School Improvement Team to review, approve, and monitor the School Improvement plans. Specifically, the approval and monitoring process will be part of the technical assistance that the RCE advocate provides. An important component of RCE support is that it strives to provide individualized attention and recommendations so that each school receives the supports that they need to improve student achievement.

Targeted Support: Special Attention for Struggling Student Groups

There are three ways a school could be identified for Targeted Support (TS):

  • Schools where any student group performs at or below the average of the schools identified for CSI for at least one indicator.
  • Schools where any student group performs in the bottom quartile for one or more indicators.
  • Title I schools that would have been identified for CSI if their consistent attendance had been lower. In other words, these are the schools that were in the bottom quartile for Stage 1 and Stage 2 in the three-stage identification process.

In total, MDE identified 157 schools for Targeted Support. Schools identified for TS are not required to submit any of the documents that CSI schools have to submit. Rather, it is the responsibility of the district or charter school to document their improvement activities and maintain records of their local work because MDE will periodically audit the district and schools.

With regard to RCEs, each district that has schools identified for TS will be assigned an RCE staff member who will work with the district or charter school to help build their capacity to support the TS schools.

Other Support from MDE

While CSI and TS are the most intensive levels of school identification, MDE does offer professional development and networking opportunities to Title 1 schools that were in the bottom quartile for at least one of the academic indicators—mathematics achievement, reading achievement, and/or progress towards EL proficiency. MDE identified 134 schools to receive this support.

What’s Next?

MDE has created a timeline for schools identified for CSI. September through December, schools identified for CSI should be forming their improvement teams, conducting a needs assessment, creating a stakeholder communication plan, and starting to select strategies for school improvement. You can see MDE’s suggested Timeline here.

Minnesota will identify schools for support every three years, so the next round won’t be until the 2021-2022 academic year.

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