ST. PAUL -- Minnesota has work to do on its new plan to grade public schools and ensure every student has the chance to succeed.

The U.S. Department of Education wrote to state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius in mid-December asking state leaders to clarify several points of Minnesota’s new school accountability plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.

The new legislation replaced the controversial No Child Left Behind law and is the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The law was first passed in 1965 and is meant to ensure all students have access to an equitable education.

Federal officials asked Minnesota leaders to clarify the state’s plan in several ways. Most notably in:

  • How the state’s system of support for struggling schools decides if a school has improved enough to no longer need help and what happens to schools that do not show enough improvement.
  • How the state ensures students are not repeatedly taught by ineffective teachers.

Those concerns were reflected in an October letter to federal education officials from the Republican leaders on the Minnesota House education committees. The lawmakers asked the state’s plan be returned for further clarification of those and other issues.

Federal officials’ December request for more information did not include questions about one of the other criticized portions of the oversight plan: how the state identifies struggling schools.

The “funnel system,” or decision tree, proposed by the state would use criteria like academic proficiency, student growth, graduation rates, progress with students learning English and an evolving measure of overall school quality.

Critics have said the proposed system is too confusing and could lead to unintended consequences like school leaders focusing on improving the performance of a small group of struggling students in order to be free of increased state oversight.

The new state oversight plan has also been questioned over how it will report results in a clear and transparent way to parents. The state’s reporting system is still under development.

A bulletin from the state Department of Education sent to educators and other stakeholders Dec. 22 characterized the federal feedback as mostly positive. State leaders have until Jan. 3 to respond to federal officials questions although they could request an extension.

The state’s new school oversight system is expected to be implemented in 2018.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service