Arlette Pearson, Greenbush, Minn., column: A grossly unfair label for Greenbush-Middle River schools

By Arlette Pearson GREENBUSH, Minn. -- This letter is in response to the following statement on the Minnesota Department of Education website regarding the 34 persistently "low-performing" schools: "These schools do not have the fundamental educa...

By Arlette Pearson

GREENBUSH, Minn. -- This letter is in response to the following statement on the Minnesota Department of Education website regarding the 34 persistently "low-performing" schools:

"These schools do not have the fundamental educational practices in place for their students to be successful."

We demand a retraction of that statement. Why would the state education commissioner make such a blanket generalization? Isn't the commissioner supposed to present solid and fair educational leadership to all the schools in Minnesota?

We also expect an admission from the department that some schools were unfairly labeled in the effort to identify the "bottom 5 percent" of the schools in the state.


Schools were not identified based on multiple measures. For example, Greenbush-Middle River High School has a higher ACT-determined college readiness rate than the state average, as well as high graduation and post-secondary placement rates.

At our small high school, the "poor school" label is based on a single type of test score from an average class size of 38 students a year. There are dozens of schools with lower 10th and 11th grade Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments scores than ours, but they were not identified.

At her May 26 press conference, education commissioner Alice Seagren said, "We should be worried about the student." We agree, and our students -- past and present -- are confused and upset by the misrepresentation of our school.

Recently, 44 students graduated from Greenbush-Middle River High School. Ninety-eight percent of the senior class got a diploma. Eighty-one percent are enrolled in post-secondary education institutions.

Do these statistics suggest a persistently low-performing school? And the numbers are not new or unusual; for us, they are the norm.

Eight common educational deficiencies were found in most of the 34 schools, the commissioner said. The first was a "lack of differentiated instruction between struggling students and gifted students."

It would be a great help to the schools in the state if the department looked at itself and realized this probably is its first and greatest deficiency, too. Clearly, there is a lack of differentiated policies, procedures, rules, guidelines and requirements between rural schools and city schools as well as large schools and small schools.

How can any state or federal leader think that one of the four turnaround strategies will fit every school? How can they think that the same plan that applies to a big inner-city school will apply to Greenbush-Middle River High School, which is farther north than most people at the department ever have been and has fewer than 150 students?


Another deficiency noted is, "Not using data to improve instruction." Again, the department needs to look in the mirror, because it certainly didn't use all the available data to identify these 34 schools.

If the department truly is looking for the 5 percent worst-performing schools in the state, it should compare apples to apples. It should look at the same grade spans, use the same tests and scores, use student scores from all schools and so on.

Then when the department has identified those schools, it shouldn't use them as a political statement. Instead, state leaders should conduct an in-depth evaluation and use the results to improve the school, not shame it.

We realize there are many areas where we could improve in grades K-12, but we definitely are not a "low-performing" school. In fact, we just learned that 90 percent of our 10th graders were proficient on their 2010 assessments and 49 percent of 11th graders were proficient in math. This happened before any state intervention, shows significant growth and is above statewide proficiency levels; but our students, school and community already have suffered the damage of the department's incorrect label.

The ramifications of this misnomer will be felt in our district for years to come.

We expect a public correction from the Department of Education.

Pearson is chairperson of the Greenbush-Middle River School District board of education. This letter was submitted on behalf of the entire board.

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