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Morris Area School District's state ratings up considerably from 2012

MORRIS -- Staff, students, parents and administrators in the Morris Area School District have a lot to be proud about in the most recent round of ratings on school achievement.

Both Morris Area Elementary School and Morris Area High School have Multiple Measurement Ratings that are considerably higher than scores in 2012.

“These results are indicative of the efforts our students put forth, the involvement that we are fortunate to have from parents, and the support we enjoy from our communities,” Superintendent Scott Monson told staff this week. “Most importantly, these MMR results are a result of the work that all staff members have been doing.”

MMR scores look at four categories: proficiency in reading and math, student growth, closing the achievement gap and graduation rates. High schools can get a total of 100 points, while elementary schools are scored out of 75 points.

In total, MAES scored 69.2 points out of 75, about 92 percent, while MAHS scored 87.76 points out of 100, about 88 percent. MAES increased about 36 percent over 2012, and MAHS increased about 26 percent.

MAES’ score is high enough for the school to rank as a Reward School, which means it is among the top 15 percent of all Title I schools in the state of Minnesota. 

“More than anything, it’s a pat on the back to our parents and to our teachers, the people who have direct contact with students,” said Morris Area Elementary School Principal Ken Gagner.

The Minnesota Department of Education implemented the MMR system beginning in 2012 after being granted a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

According to Education Week, an industry news source of K-12 education, states were awarded NCLB waivers if they adopted education ideas like tying teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Under the waiver, those states were granted some flexibility from tenets of the law like 100 percent student efficiency in math and reading by 2014. Currently, 42 of the 50 states have an approved NCLB waiver.

MMR scores are based on the results of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, a series of tests taken by students in third through 11th grades each spring.

One of the biggest differences between the requirements of NCLB and the MMR score is that MMR factors in student growth, a more accurate way to measure student improvement and success, said Gagner.

“The nice thing about growth, this something [MAHS Principal] Craig [Peterson] and I have embraced, is that growth doesn’t matter where you’re at … Students have to make growth over the course of the year from wherever they’re starting from,” said Gagner.

“I think it’s a fair question that parents and guardians can ask us as a school: is my kid growing as a student?” added Peterson. “When we get these results, we can say a resounding ‘yes, your child is growing as a student.’”

The positive MMR results are especially gratifying for administrators given that the district failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress under NCLB in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years.

At that time, special education students and students on a free or reduced lunch program missed “safe harbor” targets in those areas. As a result, the district was required to develop a District Improvement Plan to address the missed targets.

This year, those programs paid off. In 2012, MAES had an achievement gap score of 12.53 and MAHS had a score of 3.76. This year, those scores jumped to 23.25 and 21.07 respectively. 

“We’ve made leaps and bounds as a district in terms of our data, our growth and our achievement,” said Peterson. “That’s a testament to our staff -- all our staff, our cooks, our bus drivers, our custodians, our paras -- it’s a resounding positive for all our employees.”

Gagner also credited the work of Monson and his leadership for the district during the difficult ratings.

“He’s been the constant through this process,” said Gagner.

Despite what the numbers show, both Gagner and Peterson said there are areas to grow. Not all students hit targets in every area. There is also an ongoing, district-wide focus on improving student reading scores.

Gagner also noted that the MCA results that these ratings are based on are a snapshot of how students perform on a test on a particular day.

“We’re not putting out little robots, we’re putting out people,” said Gagner. “It’s a nice pat on the back … maintaining that and building a complete picture, a complete child, is important for us.”