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District receives lowest rating in new state system



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August 28, 2013 - If anyone has taken a look at the Michigan Department of Education's (MDE) Michigan School Accountability Scorecards they may have noticed they are a little brighter than years past.

That's because the MDE has created a new system with which to grade schools districts by using the colors green, lime, yellow, orange and red as the basis for achievement after receiving flexibility to the federal No Child Left Behind Act from the U.S. Department of Education. According to the five-color coded system, green is the highest and indicates most of the goals were met and red is the lowest. Red indicates few objectives were achieved and attention is required.

Colors are determined by points accumulated. If goals are met, that's 2 points. If there's improvement, that's 1 point. If the goals aren't met, that's a zero.

Schools that earn 85 percent or more of the points possible are assigned a green color. To get lime green, they have to earn 70 to 84 percent of their points; yellow, 60 to 69 percent; orange, 50 to 59 percent; and red, below 50 percent.

Oxford got an overall red rating, even though all of its schools received a yellow, except Bridges, which got a red. The Oxford Virtual Academy (OVA) was given a green.

By comparison, Lake Orion scored a yellow, Clarkston got orange and Brandon was red (see chart below)

"There are many, many components of the report card that are weighted and looked at," explained Oxford's Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction Dr. James Schwarz. "The biggest basis of the report card is your MEAP/MME scores."

The MEAP and MME are broken down into two parts – one is looking at proficiency and the other is participation rate.

"Your participation rate means you must test at least 95 percent of your students in each of these subcategories," Schwarz said.

The subcategories include ethnic race, English Language Learners, students with disabilities and bottom 30 percent.

"If you have smaller population in any one of these subcategories, one child can knock you below the 95 percent mark just by (being) absent or suspended or expelled," Schwarz said. "If you have a child suspended or expelled during the testing period, they hold that against you as well."

Such was the case for Oxford.

"We did well across the board, but the one area where we fell was in our Asian population across the district. That subcategory we had 58 students, (but) 55 were tested because three of them were removed from testing," added Schwarz. "One (student's) cell phone had gone off, (a) couple others had (absentee) issues, so the percent assessed comes to 94.3 percent. We did not make 95 percent and they do not round, so by a fraction of a percent, we got a red in that category."

Other factors that influence the scorecards on a smaller scale include educator evaluators and compliance factors.

"Every teacher needs to be evaluated every year and the state is recording that information. Part of your score includes your submission of those evaluators to the state. Those are either (a) you did or you didn't type of thing," noted Schwarz. "Compliance factors (mean each school and district is) mandated to complete an annual school improvement report. There are two of them that are done within the year, one in the summer and follow up in March. Again, either it's you did it or didn't do it."

The new system also includes graduation rates for high schools and attendance rates for middle and elementary schools as part of the grading system. Graduation rates are expected to be at 80 percent or greater and attendance rate at 90 percent or greater on a daily basis. Oxford received a green attendance rate in every school, except Bridges High School, which was red.

"That's not a surprise to us when you're looking at Bridges," noted Schwarz. "Bridges comprises the at-risk student (population), but it does obviously tell us we have some work to do to get them up to speed to reach proficiency."

He also thinks it's important "to capture the needs on where schools need to concentrate."

"I certainly believe schools should be held accountable for student achievement, testing participation. I agree with that," he continued. "What I disagree with is the fact where they create statistics and calculations in such a way that it becomes more a punitive system where the odds of being successful aren't realistic."

An example of a caveat in the system, he said is how one red indicator particularly in participation automatically knocks the whole score from green to a yellow. Another example is at-risk kids and special needs kids being held to the same standards as any other student.

"I just think that skews the results and creates an inaccurate picture of really what that district and school is doing and it just illustrates the odds of being successful in this type of system are stacked against you," Schwarz said. "We're not making excuses, but it's the way they've done their statistics and designed this system."

One of the biggest changes in the accountability system is the way goals are set. Under the No Child Left Behind Act every school and district was expected to achieve the same academic goals, but the MDE found a way to set individual goals for each school and each district based upon test scores from the past three years.

Even though Schwarz believes it's difficult to put all the different factors into one grade or color and that the system is hard to understand, he does agree with individual goals for set for each school.

"To me that is a better sense of accountability instead of going for an arbitrary number that federal government throws out that says you (have) got to be here," he added. "It's taking you where you've been and giving you a ladder to climb."

The accountability system also included the states Top-to-Bottom rankings (see chart above) and list of reward, focus and priority schools. Both Leonard and Lakeville elementary schools were given reward school status. Reward schools are those that are beating the odds and overcoming traditional barriers to student achievement and are out performing schools with similar risk factors and demographic makeup.

"Lakeville and Leonard are both Title 1 schools," Schwarz said. "They contain 30 percent or more at-risk kids, which means they have a free or reduced lunch rate in their schools greater than 30 percent."

"I think it's (an indication) that we're making good improvements in those schools and we are putting into place those types of interventions that are helping those kids improve upon their test scores and standardized performance to where they're in the top 5 percent of that category of schools improving in the state," continued Schwarz. "We're very proud of that."

Clear Lake Elementary was designated a focus school in 2012. Focus schools consist of the 10 percent of schools on the Top-to-Bottom list with the largest achievement gaps between its top 30 percent of students and its bottom 30 percent, based on average scale score.

Though they have put measures in place to help improve the bottom 30 percent, students with disabilities and English Language Learners, Schwarz said the scorecards over all are a wakeup call across the district.

"These are all areas in the district where we really need to look at interventions and really concentrate some efforts (on) identifying kids while looking at our eligibility requirements and creating new opportunities," he said. "That's a focus for us."

As far as the scorecard system goes, Schwarz believes there will be some adjustments made to hopefully improve it.

"I expect there is going to be some tweaks to it, but not a major overhaul. The reason I don't see a major overhaul is because the state created this to essentially waive the adherence to the requirements on No Child Left Behind. In order to get those requirements waived this was the system that was approved," he said. "(However,) I do think they'll tweak it based on some of the outcry they're hearing from legislators."

For more information about the accountability scorecards visit www.Michigan.gov/mde or www.mischooldata.org

Oxford Community Schools'state ranking

Oxford Red, 64 outof a possible 94 points

Top to Bottom rankings, by percentage:

81, Oxford Elementary - Focus School

80, Clear Lake Elementary

75, Oxford Middle School

74, Oxford High School

74, Leonard Elementary - Reward School

67, Lakeville Elementary - Reward School

66, Daniel Axford Elementary

Lake Orion - Yellow, 78/112 points

Clarkston - Orange, 66/114 points

Brandon - Red, 66/88 points

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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