Six district schools earn state's top recognition

August 30, 2018

The state of Minnesota is making big changes to its system of accountability for public schools. Yet through all the change, one thing remains the same: Stillwater students continue to perform at high levels.

“The change in accountability comes at the same time as our district has made significant changes in how we operate our schools and how we engage our learners, and it’s exciting to see through it all our students continue to shine,” said Denise Pontrelli, Superintendent. “We have a lot to celebrate in Stillwater.”

The new North Star Accountability System meets the federal requirements set under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was established to replace No Child Left Behind. North Star focuses less on testing proficiency and comparing one student group against another, which was the focus of past accountability measures. Instead, it’s designed to help school districts understand how well all of its students are performing in several key areas from academics to attendance. North Star acknowledges successes and identifies where additional support may be needed in order to help students.

The new system measures academic achievement or proficiency rates on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) in math and reading at the elementary and middle school levels, similar to the previous system. In addition, North Star looks at students’ academic progress, or their growth from year to year, on the MCAs. It also tracks graduation rates at both a four year and a seven year level, considers consistency in student attendance, and examines progress toward language proficiency for English language learners (ELL). Based on these five indicators, schools and school districts may be recognized for their successes and/or identified as needing additional support in any of these areas. Each indicator is treated separately in the new system, and there is no overall scoring system for a school or district as there was under the previous system.

As part of the state’s new system, five district schools have been recognized for being in the top five percent of schools in the state for academic progress. This means that students were identified as having increased their achievement level or maintained their level on the MCAs at “partially meets standards” or higher. In addition, Lake Elmo Elementary was recognized for consistent attendance for its Asian student group.

  • Andersen Elementary was recognized for reading progress for its Free and Reduced Lunch population

  • The GATE program at Stillwater Middle School was recognized for reading progress overall for all students.

  • Brookview was recognized for reading progress overall for all students, as well as for reading progress for ELL students.

  • Stillwater Middle School was recognized for both reading and math progress for its Asian student group.

  • Oak-Land middle schools were recognized for both reading progress for its Asian student group and math progress for its African-American student group.

In the areas of academic achievement and progress, Stillwater students continue to perform above the state average on the math and reading MCAs, and the majority of students are making steady growth from year to year. Many of our ELL students are also performing well and meeting the progress targets established by the new system. The district’s overall graduation rates exceed the state average, as do our district-wide daily attendance rates.

“While overall our students are performing well, we recognize the need to continue enhancing learning opportunities and ensuring we meet the needs of all 8,300 of our students,” Pontrelli said. “Engaging students in their learning and breaking down barriers standing in their way is where we’ve been focusing our efforts in Stillwater. We believe the state’s new way of looking at student achievement will support us in that work - by taking the focus off of a single test score and considering instead the many factors that impact a child’s ability to learn.”

There were three areas in which the state has identified the need for additional support - two of them related to graduation rates for a subset of students and a third related to progress toward English language proficiency at one of our schools. District staff will meet with state and centers of excellence representatives to develop plans to bolster these areas.

  • Stillwater Area High School was identified for comprehensive support due to its four year Special Education graduation rate. While that rate has grown significantly in the past two years, the average over three years is below the state’s threshold. The good news, however, is our seven year graduation rate is significantly higher than the state average. The state does recognize districts like Stillwater, where focus is placed on helping ensure all students have the skills and experiences they need for success after high school - even if that takes more than four years.

  • The St. Croix Valley Area Learning Center (ALC) was also identified for comprehensive support due to its overall graduation rate. The state has acknowledged that ALC programs exist to help students who are not on track for graduation, so being identified is common for ALC programs across the state. Stillwater staff will be spending the next several months evaluating the ALC program to determine how best to meet the unique needs of its learners.

  • Brookview Elementary was identified for targeted support in the area of progress toward English Language proficiency. The state uses three year averages to make this determination, however in the case of Brookview, the new school only has one year of data.  

District and school administrators will work with teachers in the coming months to explore the data from the new accountability system, as well as various other performance indicators. By analyzing the results, teachers will be able to better understand what is working well for students and in what areas they may need to enhance their instruction.

More information about student achievement results will be shared as part of the district’s World’s Best Workforce (WBWF) report, which measures school readiness, third grade reading scores, college/career readiness, achievement gap data and graduation rates. The WBWF report will be available later this fall on the district’s website.