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Plan in works to help at-risk kids raise test scores



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September 29, 2010 - Plans are being put together to intervene with at-risk students to help bring up the Michigan Merit Exam (MME) and ACT test scores at Oxford High School

At the community forum held on Tuesday, Sept. 21, Superintendent of Oxford Community Schools Dr. William Skilling said that plans are being worked on to help at-risk students go from basic and apprentice level scores to proficiency levels on the MME and prepping them earlier for the ACT.

"We need to work with kids at the bottom quartile," said Skilling.

The 2010 MME scores revealed that the district has between a quarter and a half of their students scoring below a mastery level, which is a score of one or two, in four of the five testing areas.

"If you are scoring at a level three or four, you are not at a mastery level," Skilling explained.

In reading, 18 percent of students scored at a level three, while eight percent scored at a level four. In writing, 44 percent of students scored at a level three, with six percent at level four.

Math scores showed that 13 percent were a level three, while 27 percent were at a level four. In science, 14 percent of students were at a level three, while 21 percent of students were at a level four.

The only area where most of the students scored well was in social studies, which only saw 10 percent of students score in level three and only three percent in level four.

Assistant superintendent James Schwarz noted that most of those students who were below the proficient level were the at-risk students.

"We are looking at ways to provide programming to these at-risk students with reading levels and math proficiency," he said. "We are looking at options of a writing stand alone course that becomes mandatory for students, which we currently don't have."

Writing test scores ranked the lowest among the district scores with a 50 percent mastery.

Skilling noted that students in the level three scores could be only one or two points from a level two. "That might be one question, so that is why Jim (Schwarz), Mike Schweig (Principal at OHS) and the administration at the high school are working on getting the bottom quartile to move up," he said.

According to Schwarz, the plan would be to identify students at the ninth grade level and get them into opportunities to succeed in high school.

"We are looking at how to create more avenues for the at-risk student, providing more of a smaller class period in terms of class size with intensive reading and math support to give them an edge as they are moving through their high school career leading up to those tests," Schwarz added.

Skilling admitted that intervention with students who were deemed at-risk at the high school level was lacking.

He spoke about the impact of the intervention programs at Oxford Middle School.

There are currently three reading intervention courses and numeracy intervention courses in place at OMS.

Middle School test scores prove that they are working.

"When you look at the numbers, it shows that they are working...their test scores have gone up every year that I have been here with no exception," Skilling said.

Skilling added that when he visits the high school, he sees teachers willing to put in the time and effort for the at-risk students, but doesn't see any specific programs in place.

"This is where we are going to make a fundamental change with what is going on in the high school so we can get those level fours and threes up to level twos and ones," he said. "That is where we are dropping the ball. It is not the high achieving kid, not the student who is making it grade wise and passing classes...it's the bottom quartile."

Oxford resident Lisa Kempner asked Skilling why the district had so many ninth graders fail one or two classes last year. He responded by saying that there wasn't enough intervention at the high school and the problem was being looked at.

Skilling also noted that this was the first time that school of choice students brought the test scores down.

This is why he is proposing changing when the district accepts school of choice students. "We need more time with them and that is what we have to change," he said.

Noelle Klebba, of Lapeer, who sends her children to Oxford, said that the standards were much higher in Oxford than the previous district her children were in.

"The bar is much higher and the education is much more quality because they have to work a lot harder here to get the grades they might have gotten there," she said.

Skilling also told the audience what Klebba said was a common concern the district heard from two other districts. "That is why we felt we needed more time with the students," he added.

Denise Sweat, the associate superintendent for student services, said that the district is looking at all students enrolling in the district, regardless if they are school of choice or resident, will have to do a reading and math inventory in hopes of identifying students who need additional support.

Schwarz added that placement testing is definitely something the district would take a strong look at.

"What we have been doing is essentially looking at transcripts...and when someone is coming in on transcript and being successful in language arts nine, for example, we assume that language arts nine is the same language arts nine that we are offering," Schwarz said.

Schwarz realized that isn't always the case as some students would struggle in a higher language arts course.

"Experience has shown us that just by going by the transcripts, one class is not the same class titled the same thing in another district," he said. "We have errored in assuming that and we have learned the hard way in some students being accepted thinking they have been successful in their core courses going just by transcripts, but ability wise they didn't."

Skilling added that the concern would be greater if students were performing well in school, but not on the MEE or the ACT.

"But when you're performing, kids are succeeding and being proficient and doing well on the ACT, and then you understand what is left and it comes back to the bottom quartile," he said.

Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.
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