Minnesota has large and persistent achievement gaps. It’s an empirically supported proposition no matter how you look at it. But if we are going to tackle the problem, it does matter how we look at it! Well-intentioned advocates and researchers sometimes talk about “the achievement gap” as if there is one definition. Are they referring to test score differences? Or graduation rates? Or gaps in educational opportunities? Are they referring to math? Or reading? Or science? Are they referring to students of color? Or students in poverty? Or English learners? Or special education students? Or all four groups? They don’t often say. Referring to “the achievement gap” is good rhetoric, but I contend that a lack of specificity is impeding progress. I also contend that we can learn from schools that are closing achievement gaps.
Advocates and researchers would be wise to use the Minnesota Department of Education’s (MDE) achievement gap reduction measure when possible. MDE quantifies gaps as the difference between the growth of historically under-achieving groups relative to more advantaged groups. The calculation yields a negative number if a school helped reduce achievement gaps in Minnesota and a positive number if a school added to existing gaps. (See page 78 of Minnesota’s approved No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver for the methodology.) Here’s why I think advocates and researchers should consistently publicize and track the achievement gap reduction measure:
- It’s official. Minnesota’s accountability system holds schools accountable for achievement gap reduction (i.e., it’s one of the Multiple Measures). It’s recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, it’s reported annually by MDE, and it’s increasingly familiar to teachers, administrators, and parents.
- It’s fair. Student growth is a better measure of the contribution of a school or intervention than proficiency rates, which reflect the economic affluence and selectivity. When we over-emphasize proficiency it prevents us from finding schools in lower-income areas that are closing gaps. Growth measures only compare students and schools to those with similar achievement at the beginning of the school year.
- It’s embodies a theory of action. As long as some groups are starting the school year behind, then the only way to close gaps is to accelerate their learning relative to their more advantaged peers. It’s a race, and traditional achievement gap measures paint a picture of the starting line. The achievement gap reduction measure tells the pace of learning over a school year.
I used to create an interactive map to help advocates and researchers become familiar with the achievement gap reduction measure and encourage recognition of schools that are helping close achievement gaps in Minnesota. The data underlying the map are publicly available from MDE’s Data Center. MDE does not publish achievement gap reduction for each student group–it only publishes overall achievement gap reduction measures (i.e., student-weighted averages across all historically lower-achieving student groups). I averaged the annual values over three years (2010-2012) to improve precision. You can zoom in and click on a school to learn more about it. Now that we know which schools are helping close achievement gaps in Minnesota, we should recognize their successes and learn from them. What are the successful schools doing? How can we encourage other schools to adopt their strategies?
|Type||School||District||Direction of gaps||Achievement gap reduction|
|ALP||Bemidji High ALP||BEMIDJI PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT||Closing||-0.13|
|CHARTER||Best Academy||BEST ACADEMY||Closing||-0.42|
|CHARTER||Ubah Medical Academy||UBAH MEDICAL ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOL||Closing||-0.42|
|CHARTER||Twin Cities International Elem||TWIN CITIES INTERNATIONAL ELEM SCH.||Closing||-0.33|
|CHARTER||Yinghua Academy||YINGHUA ACADEMY||Closing||-0.30|
|CHARTER||Global Academy||GLOBAL ACADEMY||Closing||-0.21|
|CHARTER||Minneapolis Academy||MINNEAPOLIS ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOL||Closing||-0.21|
|CHARTER||Rochester Math and Science Academy||ROCHESTER MATH AND SCIENCE ACADEMY||Closing||-0.18|
|CHARTER||Seed Academy and Harvest Prep school||HARVEST PREP SCHOOL-SEED ACADEMY||Closing||-0.18|
|CHARTER||Schoolcraft Learning Community||SCHOOLCRAFT LEARNING COMMUNITY CHTR||Closing||-0.15|
|ELEM||Atheneum Elem||INVER GROVE HEIGHTS SCHOOLS||Closing||-0.71|
|ELEM||Winsted Elem||HOWARD LAKE-WAVERLY-WINSTED||Closing||-0.39|
|ELEM||Kimberly Lane Elem||WAYZATA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT||Closing||-0.36|
|ELEM||Withrow Elem||STILLWATER AREA PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST.||Closing||-0.32|
|ELEM||Lake Marion Elem||LAKEVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT||Closing||-0.31|
|ELEM||Goodview Elem||WINONA AREA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT||Closing||-0.31|
|ELEM||Forest Hills Elem||EDEN PRAIRIE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT||Closing||-0.28|
|ELEM||Washington Elem||MANKATO PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT||Closing||-0.27|
|ELEM||Frazee-Vergas Elem||FRAZEE-VERGAS PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST.||Closing||-0.26|
|HIGH||Arlington High||SIBLEY EAST SCHOOL DISTRICT||Closing||-0.31|
|HIGH||St. Anthony Village High||ST. ANTHONY-NEW BRIGHTON SCHOOLS||Closing||-0.21|
|HIGH||Hawley High||HAWLEY PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT||Closing||-0.12|
|HIGH||Mounds View High||MOUNDS VIEW PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT||Closing||-0.08|
|MIDD||Minnetonka East||MINNETONKA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT||Closing||-0.21|
|MIDD||Valley View Middle||EDINA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT||Closing||-0.18|
|MIDD||Minnetonka West Middle||MINNETONKA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT||Closing||-0.14|
|MIDD||New Prague Middle||NEW PRAGUE AREA SCHOOLS||Closing||-0.12|
|MIDD||Wayzata Central Middle||WAYZATA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT||Closing||-0.12|
|MIDD||Sauk Rapids-Rice Middle||SAUK RAPIDS-RICE PUBLIC SCHOOLS||Closing||-0.12|
|MIDD||Mahtomedi Middle||MAHTOMEDI PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT||Closing||-0.10|
|MIDD||Sartell Middle||SARTELL-ST. STEPHEN SCHOOL DISTRICT||Closing||-0.10|
|OTHER||Park Spanish Immersion El.||ST. LOUIS PARK PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST.||Closing||-0.20|
|OTHER||School of Environmental Studies||ROSEMOUNT-APPLE VALLEY-EAGAN||Closing||-0.19|
|OTHER||Friedell Middle||ROCHESTER PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT||Closing||-0.09|
Remembering Hap Casmey inspired me to write this entry. I enjoyed getting to know Hap later in his life and hearing about his influence on education policy in Minnesota.