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Rate Minn. schools like restaurants? Parents want simplicity, teachers warn success is complex

Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul

ST. PAUL—Minnesota collects a bunch of information about students' academic performance, but state leaders mostly agree they don't do a very good job presenting it to parents in a useful way.

As education officials prepare to implement a new public school oversight system, some lawmakers and parents say now is the time to create a school report card that is easy to understand.

"We don't need more data. You have a tremendous amount of data. Let's simplify it," Pat Ryan, CEO of Ryan Cos., told lawmakers Tuesday. Ryan chairs the Minnesota Business Partnership education policy committee.

But educators and others at the Legislature warn that oversimplifying school performance measures could end up giving parents inaccurate information.

"Schools aren't restaurants. They don't need a ' Yelp-like' rating system," the state's teachers union Education Minnesota tweeted Tuesday.

STAR RATINGS

State Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, proposed legislation to create a new rating system where schools would earn up to five stars for strong performance. The idea was debated Tuesday in education committees in the Senate and House, where similar legislation is pending.

Chamberlain says his proposal would make better use of the information the state already collects, mostly through the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCAs, that students take each year in reading, mathematics and science.

"Information needs to be meaningful, understandable and transparent," Chamberlain said. "That is what we are trying to do here."

Educators countered that focusing on test scores isn't just a bad way to judge students, its a poor system for grading schools because they leave out so many other attributes that lead to academic success.

"This is not an effective measure of a school's performance," said Dale Anderson, who leads the Shakopee schools teachers union.

But Chamberlain's proposal got strong support from some parents who told lawmakers they struggle to use available data to pick the best schools for their kids.

"Right now you have in your hands the power to offer every family the possibility of choosing for themselves a quality school for their kids," parent Maria Cisneros, from the Latino Youth Development Collaborative, said through a translator.

NEW SYSTEM IN WORKS

The Minnesota Department of Education has acknowledged that past systems for reporting test scores and school performance have been convoluted. State leaders are now working on an updated reporting system as part of Minnesota's new school accountability plans under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Adosh Unni, the education department's director of government relations, said meetings with parents, teachers and community members found a desire for a system that was both nuanced and easy to understand.

State Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, said any school report card should provide parents with as much information as possible in an accessible way. She worried oversimplifying results would could have unintended consequences.

"We want to have a system that invites parents, encourages parents to come in and spend more time," Kent said.

Lawmakers are expected to continue debating the best way to develop school report cards. State officials plan to implement a new school oversight system later this year.

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