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Our Schools on Track to Close the Gap

Published February 26, 2014

It’s an unfortunate truth that Minnesota struggles with one of the worst academic achievement gaps in the nation. Despite rankings that are among the nation’s best for overall academic achievement, students of color and from economically disadvantaged backgrounds still lag far behind their white and economically advantaged peers. (See more in the Nation’s Report Card). When Brenda Cassellius was appointed commissioner of education in January 2011, she was determined to change that trajectory. Since then, she and her colleagues the Minnesota Department of Education have put in place a focused strategy to support schools in their efforts to help every child reach their full academic potential.

In 2012, Minnesota was among the first 10 states in the nation to receive a waiver from the requirements of No Child Left Behind that allowed the state to develop a new accountability system designed to give schools, parents and the public a clearer measure of how schools are doing. Just recently, the U.S. Department of Education reviewed Minnesota’s progress under the waiver and issued a report commending that accountability system. Along with new state investments, an intensive focus on early learning and literacy, and on-the-ground support from the state’s new Regional Centers of Excellence, Minnesota has turned up the urgency when it comes to addressing unacceptable achievement disparities.

Now after little more than three years, it looks like those efforts are paying off. New data show that public school districts and charter schools are largely on track to meet an aggressive statewide goal of closing gaps by 50 percent by 2017. The bottom line: seventy percent of our struggling schools improved student achievement and narrowed achievement gaps. The new data offer school officials a concrete measure of whether they are on track to close that gap between students of color and white students by the target date, and if not, how far they are from achieving that goal. Each year, in order to meet the 2017 goal, districts will have new targets they must meet for each subgroup to ensure all gaps will be closed by half. The data measures how students in every subgroup—white, black, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian, special education, low-income and English language learners—are performing academically. Schools that are not on track will have access to additional support from MDE’s school support division.

This Minnesota-grown approach to accountability, the focus on small subgroups of at-risk students, issuing progress reports to districts on achievement gaps, and relying on the regional centers to help struggling schools is garnering national attention, too! Read Education Week’s recent article.

Clearly we still have work to do, but this new information about accelerated growth is cause for hope. With students, teachers, and districts working together, Minnesota can meet the challenge of ensuring that every child can learn, succeed and thrive.

Download the achievement gap data (Excel).