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State rankings: Five schools go down, two go up


Asst. supt. explains what numbers really mean



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September 22, 2010 - Michigan published two lists this summer ranking every single school in the state based on their MEAP and MME test scores in language arts and math.

According to the lists, five of Oxford's seven schools saw a decrease in their state ranking percentage even though their test scores in the two subject areas rose.

But according to Dr. James Schwarz, the assistant supertintendent of curriculum for the school district, these lists have created a lot of confusion about how well each school is actually scoring on those parts of the exam.

There were two ranking dates this summer, one in June and one on August. Some schools moved up in percentage on the list while other schools moved down, even though most of the test scores improved, Schwarz explained.

Schools that went down included Clear Lake Elementary (-4.6 percent, from 96.4 percent in June to 91.8 in August), Leonard Elementary (-9.6 percent, from 86.6 percent in June to 76.0 percent in August), Oxford Elementary (-2.5 percent, from 97.2 percent in June to 94.7 percent in August), Daniel Axford Elementary (-1.6 percent, from 93.6 percent in June to 92.0 percent in August) and Oxford Middle School (-14.2 percent, from 62.1 percent in June to 47.9 percent in August ).

The biggest increase in the ranking was at Lakeville Elementary, which saw a 18.8 percent increase, from 57.3 percent in June to 76.1 percent in August. Oxford High School saw an increase of 8.4 percent, from 67.8 percent in June to 76.2 percent in August.

Schwarz indicated the confusion arose when "folks are trying to do the math and trying to figure out what made the numbers move."

Schwarz indicated that there were two areas of confusion with the rankings.

"The June data that was released was based on the 2007-08 and 2008-09 MEAP and MME test scores, while the rankings released in August focus on the 2008-09 and 2009-10 MEAP and MME (scores)," he said. "They released them two months apart from each other, but they span two different school years, which is confusion number one."

The second part of the confusion came when people saw test scores for a particular building go up while the school dropped in the rankings.

"In some cases, it may show the scores are increasing, (but) they may go to the ranking sheet and it shows they have fallen on the ranking scale," Schwarz said.

How can that happen?

Schwarz explained it this way.

"The state is not looking at the one shot in time test score in one year. What they are looking at over these two years (is) the overall score as part of the ranking, but more importantly they are looking at (how) students are performing in the scoring level of the exams," he said.

There are four scoring levels on the MEAP and MME Schwarz explained.

"So students can either score a one, which is above expectations, a two which is proficient, a three which is considered basic level or a four, which means novice level or needs improvement," he said.

"They (students) score in one of those four areas and what the state is doing instead of looking at your overall building scores, what they are doing is looking at the students travel between those four areas," he added.

The rankings depend on how many students traveled from a score of three to a score of two, or from a score of two to a score of three or any other combination of a student's performance in those two areas.

The state then plugs those numbers into a formula that numerically substantiates that, which in turn becomes the basis for the school rankings.

"The ranking is not really capturing the overall performance of the school…it is looking more at the pattern of the individual student's performance," he said.

States have to rank schools in order to identify the lower third schools that will receive federal aid. "I understand the state has to come up with a ranking system for improvement in order to identify who those bottom third schools are…they are federally mandated too," he said.

"We feel that the ranking system doesn't really capture what is going on in the schools," Schwarz noted.

Schwarz noted each elementary school and middle school have three grade levels worth of data, while at the high school level data is only taken from one grade level.

"It is not really comparing apples to apples," he said.

score of two, or from a score of two to a score of three or any other combination of a student's performance in those two areas.

The state then plugs those numbers into a formula that numerically substantiates that, which in turn becomes the basis for the school rankings.

"The ranking is not really capturing the overall performance of the school…it is looking more at the pattern of the individual student's performance," he said.

States have to rank schools in order to identify the lower third schools that will receive federal aid. "I understand the state has to come up with a ranking system for improvement in order to identify who those bottom third schools are…they are federally mandated too," he said.

Schwarz is neutral toward the idea of ranking schools. "We feel that the ranking system doesn't really capture what is going on in the schools," he said.

Each elementary school and middle school have three grade levels worth of data, while at the high school level data is only taken from one grade level.

"It is not really comparing apples to apples," he said.

Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.
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