September 25, 2018

How is Your School Doing? How Parents Can Use “North Star”

By Andrea Roethke

Minnesota recently launched a completely new system for identifying struggling schools, and for supporting them to improve. Dubbed North Star, the new system looks at different measures of student success and school quality to identify schools that need improvement across the board, or sometimes in just one area or with one specific student group. Identified schools will receive varying levels of support to diagnose their needs, and then to develop and implement plans to improve.

HOW CAN I UNDERSTAND AND USE NORTH STAR?

Unfortunately, North Star doesn’t provide an easy way for parents to make quick sense of how their school is doing overall. But, what North Star does do well is hone in on where schools need to focus, whether it be core academics, supporting English Learners, helping all kids graduate, or serving specific demographic groups. But how do parents and community members find out if their school needs improvement and, if so, what to do next?

Here are a few steps to make sense of the data and get involved.

1. Learn how your school is doing.

Click here to see a list of all the Minnesota schools identified for support and improvement. Below, you can also find more details, and individual lists, on the four categories of schools identified under North Star.

  • The Lowest 5%: There are 51 schools in this group, made up of the state’s lowest performing schools based on math, reading, proficiency for English Learners, academic progress, graduation, and attendance. This category looks specifically at schools with high concentrations of low-income families, known as Title 1 schools. These Comprehensive Support and Improvement Schools will receive a series of interventions over the next three years.
  • High Schools with Low Graduation: North Star identified 147 high schools with a graduation rate below 67% for any student group (Asian students, Latinx students, or students in special education, for example). These schools are also flagged as Comprehensive Support and Improvement Schools.
  • Schools Needing Targeted Improvement: Schools are placed in this category when outcomes for a specific student group (students in special education, for example) are similar to the lowest 5% of schools, or for Title I schools, when they need to improve specific academic outcomes. These 159 schools will receive more limited support, primarily through their district.
  • Schools with Low Proficiency Rates: North Star also flagged 133 Title 1 schools with math, reading, or English Learner proficiency in the bottom 25%. These schools are eligible to participate in trainings and professional development.

2. Help your school improve.

Once a school is identified for comprehensive or targeted support, it must involve parents and other stakeholders in the improvement process. Specifically, each school must:

  1. Communicate and engage with stakeholders around the improvement process;
  2. Conduct a comprehensive needs assessment to understand the root of the school’s challenges;
  3. Assess resource inequities within the school and across the district to understand how this is impacting outcomes; and
  4. Develop a school improvement plan in partnership with stakeholders.

When you hear from your child’s school about its North Star identification—or even before you hear anything—let staff know that you want a seat at the table in the improvement process. This process is new for schools and districts too, so if you haven’t heard anything, don’t hesitate to speak up and ask questions.

3. Join us as an advocate.

Now that North Star is live, the real work begins. We’re tracking what happens next by working with parents, educators, and community members to understand how school improvement is going. As we see what’s working and what’s not, we’ll continue to advocate for a stronger process. If you’re looking for training and support to get more involved, or you have a story that you want to share, please reach out.

WHAT IF MY SCHOOL ISN’T ON ANY LIST?

One weakness of North Star is that it doesn’t provide a clear answer on how schools above the cut off are performing, even though they may still have some areas for growth. To understand where your school stands, you can find detailed data through the Minnesota Report Card, which allows you to break out data for specific student groups and compare your school with district and statewide averages. You can also click here to see if your school was recognized for success.

We’ve heard from a lot of parents that the report card can be overwhelming, and we agree. In the short term, the Minnesota Department of Education will launch a new summary page this December to give a better snapshot of school performance. That’s a step in the right direction, but we know Minnesota has a long way to go. We’ll be advocating for even more transparency, including a fully re-vamped data dashboard, the addition of a performance rating system that includes all schools, and clear presentation of key data on things like school suspensions and school finance.