Increasing Equitable Access to Quality Instruction: The Minnesota Standards Portal

Marguerite Huber

This blog post was published as part of the work of the Midwest Comprehensive Center, funded by the U.S. Department of Education Comprehensive Centers Program, during the cycle which ended on September 30, 2019.

An effort to create a centerpiece of support for teachers and districts implementing Minnesota state standards is finally coming to fruition this fall.

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) designed the online Minnesota Standards Portal to support districts in implementing state standards and responding to Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) legislation. The portal will help ensure that schools understand the standards and their content expectations so that what they teach is based on the standards and how they teach is based on evidence-based practices. Thus, the portal will increase equitable access to quality instruction for all Minnesota students.

In addition, the portal is a key mechanism to improve teacher instructional practices as part of the school improvement process outlined in Minnesota’s ESSA plan. It gives schools and districts the necessary evidence-based tools for implementing a standards-based system of instruction, from districts that need a lot of support to those that only need some assistance. The portal has resources focused on getting started with standards-based education, establishing or improving support structures, and selecting or implementing curriculum and instructional practices.

The Midwest Comprehensive Center (MWCC) has been supporting MDE in developing the portal’s framework and content for the last two years, building on work with MDE’s standards team since 2015. As the portal continues to be populated and refined, MWCC is providing support on its completion through partnership and content expertise, including identification of cross-content best practices and gathering and analyzing stakeholder feedback to modify and improve the portal. Also, MWCC is supporting MDE’s development of a self-assessment tool to help districts and school teams identify entry points into the portal.

As Rebecca Bates, MWCC senior technical assistance consultant and project lead explained, “The online portal has really been MDE’s initiative and their drive. We have been helping them envision that by providing the project management support, stakeholder feedback support, and content expertise.”

MWCC coached MDE on conducting usability testing for the portal, giving MDE the necessary skills to conduct similar testing on their own in the future. Throughout the project, MDE also learned how to develop focus group protocols and collect quality feedback from focus groups of diverse participants through guidance provided by MWCC.

The portal work has brought multiple MDE divisions into the fold. As described by Bates, “The standards portal has shifted how MDE works. Content areas and divisions are working together to make the work more collaborative and intentional.” The work brings together numerous voices across MDE, leading to plenty of collaboration, cross-divisional meetings, and stakeholder feedback. Working across MDE on portal language and consistent terminology also has helped to build excitement across the department.

Of course, the team did not collect portal feedback only from within MDE. The first rounds of usability testing included superintendents and principals from metro and greater Minnesota schools in spring 2018. In addition, stakeholder groups of school district staff in charge of curriculum or professional development provided feedback on portal content and design.

This feedback is necessary to ensure that the portal is engaging, useful, and accessible for educators. MDE will monitor data analytics, including who is using the portal and how they are using it. This approach will enable MDE to focus on continuous improvement of the portal, making it an evolving tool that is responsive to stakeholders’ needs. A communication plan focused on how to share all the resources and gather feedback without overwhelming educators is also in the works. MWCC will support the development of the continuous improvement and communication plans.

MDE is looking for schools to pilot the standards portal this fall. After the pilot, MDE will work through the continuous improvement process to ensure that the portal is effective and to capture feedback for improvement and modifications going forward. This approach will allow MDE to better support schools and districts in implementing state content standards.

As a result of the support from MWCC, MDE has a complete standards portal to assist schools and districts in implementing a standards-based system across the state. In turn, the implementation of a standards-based system will improve equitable access to standards-based instruction.

In the words of Doug Paulson, director of the MDE Academic Standards and Instructional Effectiveness Division, “One of the commitments Minnesota has made for equity is to improve the quality of curriculum and instruction for all students by monitoring equitable implementation of standards. The portal is a tool that will improve the quality of curriculum and instruction by supporting a standards-based system that is focused on equitable access. The support of MWCC has helped MDE to realize our audacious vision and to create a tool that will support the implementation of all of our standards for over a million young people in our state.”

Click here to explore the Minnesota Standards Portal.