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Are Minneapolis Public Schools Getting a Bad Rap?

Are the public schools in Minneapolis that made the State's list of
underperforming schools getting a bad rap?

MPS spokesman Dave Heistad says that the "underperforming schools" in
Minneapolis are doing just fine, according to a story in today's Star-Tribune
["List Spells Trouble for Urban Schools" by Allie Shah, Metro section, pages
1 & 9].

The state of Minnesota has an accountability system aligned with the
goal of helping all students pass the Minnesota Basic Standards Tests in
reading, writing, and Math.  To get a high school diploma in Minnesota, one
must get passing scores on all 3 sections of the MBST.

The Minneapolis school district rates the performance of its schools on the
basis of goals set for each school.  One goal is to achieve a satisfactory
rating on parent satisfaction surveys.  Goals related to academic achievement
are based on judgments about the academic ability of each student.

How does one rate a school where the majority of students are not on track to
pass the MBST in the 8th grade, and where the proportion of students in that
category is increasing?  The state calls it a failing school.  The
Minneapolis School District calls the same school a success story.

ACCOUNTABILITY TRICKS

Dave Heistad also believes that the State is being unfair by comparing how
students do on an achievement test at a particular grade level from
year-to-year.  What method does the Minneapolis school district use?

In his report to the Board on November 24th, 1998, Dave Heistad, the director
of Research, Evaluation and Assessment stated, "We are meeting the challenges
with the students that have the most needs, and that we're becoming known
across the great city schools as one of those school districts that's really
showing progress. Not all the great city schools have data that show that
they're making growth greater than the national norm." [Transcribed from an
audio tape recording, See "Perfuming the Pig"
<http://educationright.tripod.com/id30.htm>]
In his report to the Minneapolis Board of Education on November 24, 1998,
Heistad also boasted of gains in reading and math above the national norm for
students of color. The same claim is made in the 1998 Better Schools
Referendum Report Card dated January 1999 (Minneapolis Public Schools
Research, Evaluation and Assessment).

However, the claim of gains in math and reading scores above the national
norm was based on the trend of test scores for only 37% of the class of 2001
who took the tests in the spring of 1997 and the spring of 1998. The district
was not comparing the test score data for all students enrolled and tested in
the Minneapolis Public Schools from one year to the next. Only the tests
scores of students in the class of 2001 who had been continuously enrolled
and tested in the district from the spring of 1990 to the spring of 1998 were
counted. (Source: Minneapolis Public Schools, District Wide Assessment
results 1997-98, page 29-31).

For students in the Minneapolis Public Schools who were eligible for free or
reduced-price lunches due to low family income, nearly 2/3 of the total
student population, the data shows that only 35% made gains above the
national norm in reading, and 40% made gains above the national norm in math
from the spring of 1997 to the spring of 1998. [Source: Minneapolis Public
Schools, District Wide Assessment results 1997-98, page 28.  

Also see: Comment on the "State executive branch response to Plaintiff's
settlement proposal in the NAACP and Xiong cases, [dated 3/19/99]" by Doug
Mann, 30 March 1999, from the pamphlet, White Supremacy and the Politics of
Apartheid in Minnesota, also published on-line at
<http://educationright.tripod.com/id33.htm>]   
Doug Mann,  8 November 2001