July 30, 2014 - This year's Oxford Schools juniors had "a few positives" on their Michigan Merit Exam (MME) scores and had some "gains and drops" on their ACT results compared to last year, according to Chief Academic Officer Dr. James Schwarz.
"Whenever these scores come out it always causes us to reflect on all of those bits and pieces that we have that support our academics, as well as what's going on specifically in the general classroom," Schwarz said.
Looking at the district as a whole, which includes Oxford High School, Oxford Virtual Academy, and Oxford Bridges High School, scores went up 4 percent in math, five percent in reading, three percent in science and down 1 percent in social studies and four percent in writing compared to last year's scores (see chart below).
"Particularly writing and social studies are focus areas for us because when I compare those obviously to the performance of the county and the state, they ironically have increases in those levels," explained Schwarz "How they increased while we decreased provides us certainly motivation to delve deeper into what's causing that."
Writing is a subject area that is "one of those difficult areas" when it comes to the MME testing, noted Schwarz.
"Every year there is a different prompt and it's scored by humans as opposed to a machine, so there is some subjectivity to those scores on an annual basis, just on the basis of the prompt, whether it's interesting to the students or not how relevant it is to the students or not and the teams that score them," he added. "None the less we continue to prepare our students with writing for different purposes. Writing to the different genres and each school has those embedded within their school improvement processes, but it's something that we continue to struggle with. So that's something we're going to be paying close attention to."
Schwarz also attributed the downfall in writing scores to living "in an age of social media."
"Social media has not helped student's writing ability," he said. "In fact, it's quite hampered them because they get into bad habits (concerning) how they compose e-mails, in terms of how they text, in terms of how they post things on Facebook and other sites, so students have gotten quite accustomed to bad habits with writing."
"It's trying to break those (bad habits) and really getting students to understand purposes in which they're writing and keeping in mind the audience, keeping in mind the genre (that) they're writing. That's really the basis for how we're embedding improvement," Schwarz continued. "We're embedding improvement within writing, within all subject areas not just in language arts classes or specific writing classes, but across the continuum. Teachers are increasing use of writing within science, within math and even PE in some cases, kids are writing."
Social studies is another subject that's "come under the radar" as to why the county and state have trends upward this year and Oxford has dropped.
"We're going to have to roll up our sleeves and take a look at what (we need to) re-teach and accentuate," he said. "A lot of the questions that were missed pertain to American History, so we really need to go back and look at what specifically in American history do we need to go back and re-teach, re-emphasize and make stronger within the instruction and delivery."
As for the ACT scores, Oxford fell 0.2 percent in reading and 0.4 percent in English, while they increased 0.2 percent in math and 0.1 percent in science. Their composite score also fell about 0.1 percent in comparisons to last year.
"We're talking minute fluctuations up and down within those (scores,) Schwarz said. "In some respect they are congruent with what we're seeing with the MME. This information provides our departments and our teams with some information to really delve in and find out looking at the item analysis what standards and where we need to improve and then create classroom strategies based upon what that data tells us."
In terms of the state and county comparisons, Oxford fell under the county in most areas and was about even with the state in most areas.
"In ranking of scores on a very general basis of the 28 districts in the county we fall roughly in the middle around 14," added Schwarz. "We've pretty much stayed between 13-16 depending on the year to year how we rank with those 28 districts in the county, certainly we're aiming to get much higher than that so we're working towards those ends."
As far as the areas of improvement in both the MME and ACT (scores), Schwarz said it does "give them validation" that they are "doing good things, paying attention to the right standards and moving forward" in the areas that they should be.
"I think it's a continual goal to stretch and continue to make improvements. I don't think we're ever satisfied with the scores no matter what they are. It's always giving us something to strive (for) and be better at," he added. "How do we reach more students? How do we lift those students who are considered at risk? How do we raise them to the next level? How does this inform our interventions? Do we have the right interventions in place and are we reaching the right group of kids with those interventions? It calls all of that into question."
Schwarz also pointed out the fact that the district has been awarded the Student Performance Grant by the state this year is another validation of their efforts. The grant looks at the overall improvement of students over time. Because of that grant, they are receiving an extra $100 per student, which equals an additional $540,000 in the budget.
MME Average Comparisons
2013 Oxford County State
Reading 57 59 54
Writing 54 57 49
Math 28 37 29
Social Studies 43 45 39
Science 28 33 26
2014 Oxford County State
Reading 62 63 59
Writing 50 58 51
Math 32 38 29
Social Studies 42 51 44
Science 31 35 28
ACT Average Comparisons
2013 Oxford County State
English 19.3 20.0 18.8
Math 19.9 20.7 19.6
Reading 20.3 20.5 19.6
Science 20.5 20.9 20.1
Composite 20.1 20.7 19.7
2014 Oxford County State
English 19.0 20.2 18.9
Math 20.3 20.8 19.7
Reading 20.1 20.8 19.8
Science 20.7 21.0 20.1
Composite 20.2 20.8 19.8
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.