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Lowell Elementary School earns quite the 'Reward' according to new state results

If the Minnesota Department of Education’s (MDE) new format to monitor school performance was listed like a report card on a typical school grade, Lowell Elementary School would have earned an A+ according to the latest results.

Paving the way for growth and achievement with its new accountability system called the Multiple Measurement Ratings (MMR) — measuring academic proficiency, student growth, progress in closing achievement gaps and graduation rates for high schools — the MDE’s first-ever MMR results showed Lowell in the designation of the highest-performing 15 percent of Title I schools in the state.

Lowell was one of just 128 to earn the distinction out of more than 2,000 schools statewide.

But amidst all the excitement is an effort of working toward a better understanding to how schools in Minnesota are now measured, said Superintendent Steve Razidlo.

“It’s exciting to see that Lowell students and staff continue to do great work with kids and earned the honor of becoming a Rewards School,” said Razidlo. “But with these being the first results seen by school districts across the state, there comes an understanding of what does it all really mean for our schools? Because it’s so new, our staff, students and families need to understand more on how the system works which will come over time.

“It still makes me very excited for Lowell and all of our (Brainerd) schools and we will see more of this unfold as we begin to understand it (MMR) more.”

The results are the first of its kind after Minnesota was granted a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act that was put in place in 2001. The waiver allowed the Minnesota Department of Education to instead approach a new look at testing with the MMR, where the biggest goal according to the MDE is “to improve disparity between students of color and in poverty and their white counterparts, often called the achievement gap.”

Where the No Child Left Behind relies on one high-stakes annual standardized test of academic proficiency to determine whether a school is making adequate yearly progress, the MMR used testing from 2010-11 and includes three designations:

• Reward Schools: The highest-performing 15 percent of Title I schools in the state. The state named 128 schools in this category.

• Focus Schools: The 10 percent of Title I schools making the biggest contribution to the state’s achievement gap. There are 85 schools that received this designation.

• Priority Schools: The 5 percent most-persistently low-performing Title I schools in the state. There are 42 schools that received this designation.

Lowell was the only school in the Brainerd School District that was categorized into a designation.

And while the designation is an honor, Lowell Principal Todd Sauer said nothing has changed at the elementary school in order to earn the title.

“If you look at every (school) building in the Brainerd District, and even across the state, they are all working toward change and giving students the best opportunities for education,” said Sauer. “It’s a nice award (to be named a Reward School) but we didn’t do anything different than what other schools are doing, or from what we already had been doing.

“We (at Lowell) have a staff that focuses on kids’ needs at all times and, again, while the award is nice, you look at every teacher in Brainerd and across the state and it’s what they are all doing, too.”

Razidlo added that while these results focused on testing from 2010-11, another set of MMR results will be released in August that will reflect the round of testing from this year. Results he said will be valued more as the district heads in to the 2012-13 school year.

“August will become a huge planning tool and awareness marker for us regarding how well students are closing the gap and how well students grow from one year to the next,” said Razidlo. “I praise Minnesota generally for looking at a growth model and paying attention to how well schools work to catch kids up.

“No one wants any kids to lag behind and we will work with the new accountability measure (with the MMR) to make sure our students are keeping up, too.

“I am proud of the work of all of our schools and excited Lowell’s been chosen as a Rewards School.”

JESSI PIERCE, staff writer, may be reached at 855-5859 or Follow her on Twitter at (@jessi_pierce).