Educators nervous about state’s new method for rating its schools

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 4, 2003

ST. PAUL (AP) &045; Minnesota’s new school-rating system uses stars to rank schools. But all eyes are on the &uot;X.&uot;

The state says schools can earn a star if less than &uot;X&uot; percent of their students score below grade level and another star if more than &uot;X&uot; percent score at or above grade level. But they haven’t filled in the &uot;Xs&uot; yet.

The state is plugging different percentages into the equation now, trying to produce a bell-curve-like distribution, said Education Department spokesman Bill Walsh. With such a distribution, a large number of schools would end up in the middle &045; with three stars &045; while fewer would end up at the extremes of one or five stars.

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The star system will appear on the state’s new school-by-school report cards, a tool for parents that will be released later this month. But the report-card format has some educators questioning whether it will really help people better understand their schools. Some fear the rating will become the public’s sole means to judge schools, and that reputations will be won &045; or lost unfairly &045; based on the stars.

&uot;There’s subjectivity, there’s no doubt,&uot; Walsh said. But the decisions on how many schools get which star ratings are driven by data, he said. The state is doing &uot;a lot of runs to come up with a system that’s fair.&uot;

District administrators have some misgivings about the process.

&uot;In some ways that feels a little artificial if they’re waiting to see the percentages and how that balances out the number of schools,&uot; said Chris Richardson, superintendent of the Osseo school district. &uot;Does that give us a valid perspective on the level of achievement of various buildings?&uot;

Currently, schools can only guess how many stars they might earn, and educators are watching closely to see where the bar gets set. One number that’s been talked about for those two &uot;X&uot; percentages, Walsh said, is 10 percent.

The report card will offer other information as well, including performance of certain groups of students, such as English-language learners.