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Schools in 'focus'

August 29, 2012 - Of the 358 schools across Michigan listed based on their achieving students and low achieving students by the State of Michigan, four them were Lake Orion Schools.

Blanche Sims Elementary, Oakview Middle School, Scripps Middle School, and Waldon Middle School were all designated apart of the state's "Focus Schools" list.

According to Michigan Department of Education website, Focus Schools are establishments that have the largest gaps between students earning the highest marks and students earning the lowest grades. The scale is based on an average score on state test scores.

In her Aug. 15 blog, Lake Orion Community Schools Superintendent Marion Ginopolis said many of the schools on the state's Focus "hit" list are achieving at the top 90 percent of all schools in the state of Michigan - meaning that collectively the students in that school outperformed 90 percent of the schools in Michigan.

"Determining whether a school is improving based on the gap in achievement of students in the top 30 percent and the bottom 30 percent is ludicrous," she added. "This is not a metric that identifies achievement; rather it rewards sameness. In other words, schools are less likely to have a large gap if most of their students perform at the same level, whether it is high or low."

Ginopolis said they should looking at whether each student is showing improvement or growth year to year, regardless of his or her ability level and the determining factor of whether a school is put onthe "Focus list" would be if students 30 percent are showing the same improvement at the top 30 percent.

"If a school is doing its 'job,' all students will show gains in achievement for each year of instruction, including those in the top 30 percent as well as the bottom 30 percent," she said. "The implication in the recent Michigan Department of Education (MDE) Focus "Hit" List is that these schools are teaching the top 30 percent of students and ignoring those in the bottom 30 percent."

"Could it be that children have different abilities? In most cases, public schools include a diverse population of students based on where their home is located; not their ability level," she continued. "And, this includes students with high ability, low ability, special needs, high income and low income, disadvantaged and advantaged."

Ginopolis said there will always be an achievement gap between top performers and bottom performers in any heterogeneous population.

"The Michigan Department of Education needs to stop this comparison nonsense of lumping everyone together based on one year's data from one assessment measure (MEAP/MME) and putting public schools on lists that label them as winners or losers so that the media can have a field day with the results," she said. "Instead, focus on helping those schools where there is no achievement gap because all students are performing at low levels and dedicate resources to ensure that each child, regardless of his or her ability receives the individualized support she or he needs to be successful and improve from year to year. That's what "No Child Left Behind" means."

As for Lake Orion Schools, Ginopolis said they determine improvement multiple data resources for each individual child to determine whether or not they are making gains from year to year. If not, the schools provide additional support for that child.

"A 'red flag' is raised if we see that multiple students in any one classroom are not achieving," she added. "This then becomes a different problem that is addressed with the teacher."

Ginopolis said their data on the 30 percent of "low achieving" students in the four schools identified by the state show improvement for these students in both reading and math from one year to the next.

"We will continue to provide additional support to these students with the goal being to increase improvement for each child," she said. "Our goal is not to close a gap between the high achievers and the low achievers based on an illogical ranking of children from one year's assessment results."

On a more positive note over 280 schools in Michigan have been designated as Reward Schools for either high student achievement or making tremendous progress in student achievement, according to the state, Orion Oaks Elementary, Paint Creek Elementary, Pine Tree Elementary, Stadium Drive Elementary and Webber School were all named to the state's "Reward School" list.

However, like the changing of the rankings, the state also changed how the AYP is calculated. The calculation includes the district as an entire unit, instead of by elementary, middle and high school levels. The U.S. Department of Education also required that graduation rates for all students and all student population groups be included in the district AYP calculations.

About 48 percent of school districts, 262 of them, did not make AYP this year, as compared to 37, 6.7 percent, last year. At the school building level, 82 percent of schools made AYP, compared to 79 percent last year.

Beginning next year, the state will be issuing an Accountability Scorecard that uses five different colors to recognize varying levels of achievement accountability for each school and district, according to MDE.

"I think all of our schools have excellent things going on, they've all made AYP," said Ginopolis. "My concern is with the designation and the calculation, but I love all of our schools and I think they're all doing a great job."

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