It's sort of like paying your kid for getting A's in math and English.
A freshman legislator proposes that schools and districts get grades from A to F based on how well students do on state tests. Then, the standouts among them would be in line for extra money from the state.
Plus, said Rep. Pam Myhra, the proposed report cards would be easier for parents and students to grasp than the current ones, in which boxes show levels of improvement among students who are "proficient" and "not proficient" in reading and math.
"It is not clear to parents," said Myhra, R-Burnsville, of the current school and district report card system.
But opponents say the Myhra plan oversimplifies student performance and tilts heavily in favor of wealthier suburbs, where test scores generally range higher.
"This has a very strong bias toward schools that have an upper middle-class population," said Charlie Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. "[In terms of] proficiency across the state, you can literally line it up with a correlation between wealth and good test scores. We just don't think it's very fair, and it's not very accurate."
The Department of Education unveiled a similar grading system for schools and districts at the State Fair in 2003. That report card used a one- to five-star system, with five being the best. The star system was eventually discontinued after educators squawked. Minnesota schools and districts are already judged by test score goals mandated under the federal No Child Left Behind law. That law prescribes penalties for schools that don't show enough improvement over time, but it has no rewards system.
Used in Florida
Myhra said her proposal is based on a similar system used by Florida since 1999. That replaced a number grading system.
"They found that parents didn't understand whether 'one' was the highest or 'five' was the highest," Myhra said. "But it was abundantly clear that an 'A' was what you wanted, and you didn't want an 'F.' ... When they changed ... they started to see some phenomenal results, especially among minority students."
Florida's National Assessment of Educational Progress scores have shown a general uptick in scores over recent years, but national scores showed a similar improvement. There was also some narrowing of the achievement gap between white and black students in Florida between the 1990s and 2009. Kyte said Florida education officials who came to talk to Minnesota legislators in February cited several reasons for the improved academic performance, but none of them involved the letter grading system.
Under Myhra's plan, schools scoring an A would get one-time $100-per-student bonuses that could be used to pay for teacher bonuses, classroom equipment and supplies or temporary staff. Schools that improve one letter grade in a year, or two letter grades in two years, also would get those rewards.
Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius likes the idea of simplifying the report cards but has some problems with the Myhra proposal.
"You could certainly say that the current report card is cumbersome and not a user-friendly tool for parents and the public to actually get a clear picture of their schools," said Cassellius spokeswoman Charlene Briner. But, she said, there's a concern that a school could fare poorly under its No Child Left Behind requirements and still make an A on its report card, or could get an F and, at the same time, meet its No Child Left Behind goals.
The Myhra proposal is part of the overall K-12 education bill passed by the House last Wednesday. There is no Senate companion proposal. The Republican-backed K-12 bill that comes out of both chambers will likely be vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton. That doesn't faze Myhra.
"In 2003, there were lines of people at the State Fair wanting to know how many stars their schools had," Myhra said. "I'm hoping this will be even more effective."
Norman Draper • 612-673-4547