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Proficiency standards raised

September 28, 2011 - By Joe St. Henry

Review Editor

Making the grade just got a little harder for Lake Orion students.

Earlier this month, the State Board of Education adopted more rigorous standards for "cut scores" on the statewide Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) and Michigan Merit Exam (MME) achievement tests.

"There's criticism that the previous cut scores were extremely low and that led to the question if our state's students were truly prepared for college, especially if they did not perform well on the ACT exam," said Linda Glowaz, Lake Orion Community Schools assessment consultant.

The state says the tougher cut scores better reflect whether schools are preparing their students to be on-track toward "being career- and college-ready" when they finish high school. Students will need to correctly answer 65 percent of the questions on the MEAP and MME tests to "pass" the state tests, versus the previous benchmark of 39 percent, the state reported.

In Lake Orion and other districts, students take the MEAP exams in third through ninth grades and the MME test in eleventh grade.

Glowaz presented the impact of the new cut scores to the district's board of education on Sept 13. Third-grade MEAP test proficiency "passing" scores in math for the 2010-11 school year dropped from 98 percent to 49 percent; reading from 93 to 77 percent. Fifth graders fared no better, dropping from 91 to 62 percent "passing" in math, 94 to 83 percent in reading and 92 to 31 percent in science.

Applying the new standards to eighth grade MEAP results from 2010-11, district proficiency levels in math dropped from 91 to 50 percent, reading from 94 to 77 percent and science from 93 to 30 percent. Proficiency among high school juniors taking the MME exam dropped from 72 to 45 percent in math; 77 to 69 percent in reading; 78 to 40 percent in science and 88 to 59 percent in social studies.

Glowaz said all districts in the state are on a "level playing field" and looking at similar drops in student proficiency. She also reiterated that the percent of Lake Orion students making the cut based on the new standards is "better" than that of the county and state results.

To her knowledge, Glowaz said, no input from any school district was obtained by the state as lawmakers decided to make these changes. She also said she does not personally agree with the approach or complex formula used to determine the cut scores.

School district administrators and teachers are taking the changes in stride, recognizing they will have to work even harder to engage students to help them meet the new standards.

"Moving forward, we need to clearly define what to teach our kids to not only meet, but exceed, the new standards," said Ken Null, principal, Orion Oaks Elementary. "Our teaching methods need to evolve too, to reflect the world today's kids live in and how they best learn."

Lake Orion High School Principal Sophia Lafayette added, "We're always looking for ways to improve student achievement and help them grow."

Glawaz said the new cut scores will help the district's schools determine where there are opportunities to raise the bar with their curriculum. She reiterated, however, compared to other districts, teachers in Lake Orion already have "high standards". Null, who also has children in the district, agreed saying based on his experiences, teachers have always had "high expectations" in Lake Orion.

Glowaz also stressed that the testing is simply a "snapshot" of how a student takes a test on that given day.

Scripps Middle School Principal Dan Haas agreed standardized test scores can point teachers in the right direction to look at what core curriculum areas need to be addressed, but he said they should never be used to exclusively judge a student's capabilities.

"No assessment test can measure the drive, heart and commitment of a student," he said.

Lafayette said educators know that student achievement is "holistic" and the state's approach to rely only on standardized test scores to determine if a student is career- or college-ready is too narrow. "There are a lot of other factors to take into account to project if someone is going to be successful after high school," she said.

Even more disconcerting to her is that these test scores may unfairly label a child as not college-ready. "If that is the case, they may say 'what's the point?' and no longer believe in themselves."

Where does the district go next in addressing the situation? Lafayette said the new cut scores need to be shared with all teachers and then discuss what needs to be done for students to reach the new proficiency levels.

"We can't make changes overnight," she said. "That may be frustrating to some, but we need to understand the new standards, make changes and then teach our students accordingly."

Null at Orion Oaks looks forward to the challenge. "There may be some uncertainty now, but I expect our teachers to rise to the occasion," he said.

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