MCA Scores Stagnant, ESSA a Beacon of “Equity”, and Charlottesville

On August 7th, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) released the 2017 MCA results. The MCA is a statewide standardized assessment used to examine academic performance at a school level and to highlight equity issues for accountability purposes. The sharp dips indicate when the newest version of the MCA was administered. But since 2012-2013, average scores have remained stagnant meaning students have not made progress on the newest version of the test and gaps remain.

In the 2018-2019 school year, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as the framework for federal accountability for schools and districts. Both ESSA and NCLB are reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which was born out of the Civil Rights Act of 1965. It emphasizes equal access to education and established high standards and accountability. The bill aimed to shorten the achievement gaps between students by providing each child with fair and equal opportunities to achieve an exceptional education (US DOE, 2017).

MDE highlights racial equity in its ESSA plan, “Our ESSA state plan emphasizes meaningful inclusion of all students in the system and upholds the civil rights spirit of ESSA by holding every public school accountable for the outcomes of every student group” (ESSA State Plan Draft Executive Summary, 2017).

In the ESSA plan, MDE sets ambitious goals in academic proficiency for equally weighted student groups by 2025 and will identify high schools that have a graduation rate of less than 67% for any student group. However, in 2012 the Department set ambitious goals for closing the achievement gap (we prefer the term “closing racial disparities in educational outcomes”) by 2017. Little to no change has occurred in those five years and the achievement gap continues to be the widest in the country.

Some would argue that more time is needed given that Minnesota had adopted a new accountability process four years ago.  MnEEP acknowledges that the passage of MN’s 2013 World’s Best Workforce Act (WBWF) – passed prior to the federal ESSA law – established new requirements of public schools to implement plans for the academic success of all students for which they are to be held directly accountable via a possible withholding of each school district’s general fund formula. The possibility of having 2% of that funding set aside by the MDE signaled a higher level of accountability and seriousness on the part of the state. We are now entering the timeframe where the results of academic success, such as this year’s MCA outcomes, should be triggering stronger action by the state.

MnEEP believes that the state of Minnesota cannot continue to set ambitious goals under the spirit of equity and then merely respond to MCA scores with a statement of “frustration”. As the agent for the state, MDE’s leadership must reach the classroom through superintendents, school boards, principals, and teachers.

What to do?

When standardized test scores do not budge, as they haven’t in the past five years, and students’ of color/American Indian students scores are at least 20 points lower than white students without any change in the disparity, students are not being meaningfully included in the promise of our public schools.

Minnesota’s teacher force is 96% white in a school system that has 30% students of color/American Indian students and rising. The lack of teachers of color denies students the ability to see role models and experience new ways of learning. MnEEP believes the number of teachers of color and American Indian teachers in our public E-12 schools should reflect the racial/cultural diversity of our students. That means putting an additional 15,000 such teachers in our public classrooms. Minnesota will not achieve racial equity in education and the goals of the WBWF and ESSA without increasing teachers of color and American Indian teachers.

Ethnic studies in our schools also offer an effective way for students to be powerfully engaged in their education as well as a way to close gaps. In Arizona, ethnic studies have been strongly tied to increased academic outcomes of Mexican-American students to move them towards parity with white students in standard achievement results.

However, in this era of white supremacist rallies such as what was held at the University of Virginia where a 20-year old participant deliberately drove his car into a group of counter-protesters killing 31 year old Heather Meyer and injuring 19 others, successful opportunities and successful outcomes for students of color and American Indian students are under attack. While Arizona’s ethnic studies are a proven best practice, they have been challenged in court by white nationalists seeking to eliminate references to knowledge of history and culture that is “un-American”.

In sum, MnEEP believes that eliminating systemic racism in America and in our state is an important factor that can undo the racially disparate results of this year’s MCAs. That takes a commitment to strengthen the ability of our state’s E-12 schools, colleges and universities to use race equity as a guiding mandate to produce 1) new curriculum, 2) new ways of teaching, and 3) new ways of structuring the operations of schools and colleges. Those three are key tools and practices that cultivate the empowerment of students of color and American Indian students to form their academic identity - one that leads to cognitive and spirit liberation from our systems of institutional racism and allows them to succeed academically.

We know what works; we have the legal and financial frameworks to support change that embraces those efforts. Minnesota’s school leaders should (must) seize the opportunity that the WBWF and ESSA provides in transforming the opportunity gap for Minnesota students.

At the MDE’s first public forum for developing its ESSA implementation plan in St. Paul on August 15th, a Somali parent asked, “I thought kids in America were all equal. Then why do the poor neighborhoods have bad schools and the rich neighborhoods have good schools?”

Why indeed?

Carlos Mariani Rosa, MnEEP Executive Director 

Dr. Naim Madyun, MnEEP Board Chair