Molly Leutz surveyed her school options before deciding to pick the neighborhood school for her 4-year-old, Mae, who will start kindergarten in August. Burroughs Elementary School won her over, thanks to its reputation and popularity in her Tangletown neighborhood in south Minneapolis.
Low among her criteria were standardized test scores.
“It didn’t even cross my mind,” she said.
As parents scour Minneapolis’ schools for the best fit for their children, more of them are turning to factors like after-school opportunities and student body makeup than even schoolwide test scores, according to results from a recently released school district survey.
For Leutz, diversity and reviews from current parents were priorities. School resources and the open program were key for Abigail Loyd, parent of two Marcy Open School students. Robert Rossi, parent of a Seward Montessori School second-grader, said a big factor was the parents’ investment in the school.
“That made it clear-cut for us,” he said.
The responses from 2,000 parents and guardians in the November survey presented at a board meeting last week came as Minneapolis Public Schools works to update its communications and community engagement. The way the district connects with families needs sharpening, said communications chief Tonya Tennessen at a school board meeting last week.
The district could keep more students with the new strategy, a critical goal as students peel off to charter schools and neighboring districts.
“What I’d like to make sure we’re doing is laying a strong foundation for an eventual districtwide marketing approach, tied to both retaining and recruiting MPS families,” Tennessen said at the meeting.
The best-fitting school
The survey showed that parents look to two factors when figuring out where to enroll kids: enrichment and after-school opportunities and the makeup of the student body. Those two tied at 60 percent for most popular information sources. Fewer votes came in for school test scores and support services, which 54 percent of parents picked.
School environment was important to Kimberly Caprini, a parent of a Patrick Henry High School senior and an Olson Middle School seventh-grader.
“The connection that I felt to school in terms of how I literally felt when I was in the building, that was important to me,” said Caprini, who lives in the Cleveland neighborhood in north Minneapolis and ran unsuccessfully for a school board seat in the fall.
Most reported positive feelings in survey questions that asked about school connectedness and teacher respect.
Report card grades and phone calls and e-mails from teachers or school staff proved to be the most useful parent information for gauging a child’s school progress, the survey showed. Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment test scores were the fourth most important, and nearly 60 percent of parents said it was a factor.
Fewer than half of black, Latino and American Indian families turn to test scores when deciding between school placements, the survey reported, but nearly 60 percent of Asian and almost 70 percent of white parents do look to test scores.
Test scores have less value in part because many refuse to take them, said South High School parent Steve Richter in an e-mail. At high schools like Southwest, Henry and Roosevelt, more than 50 percent of students opted out of the 2015-16 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) math tests.
MCA testing has already begun in the district, and despite the opt-out rates in high schools, those results remain the only way to compare academic achievement across all Minneapolis Public Schools and schools across the state.
Though everyone peeks at test scores, they’re not game-changing statistics for parents, Rossi said.
“Other things are even more compelling to them,” he said.