Source: Sherman Publications

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District explains ACT, indicates scores actually up

by Andrew Moser

August 17, 2011

For Oxford High School students who plan to attend a college or university, the 2011 ACT scores actually went up.

That was part of the presentation made by Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Dr. James Schwarz at the Aug. 8 school board meeting.

Schwarz shared with the board two sets of ACT and MME test scores, one for students at Oxford High School and the district's overall scores.

Schwarz told the board this year's ACT scores could not be compared to scores prior to 2007.

"Testing prior to 2007 was a choice for students," Schwarz said. "Only the students who were really four-year college bound students chose to take that exam...after that point, testing for all students, regardless if they were college bound or not, including special education, were mandated to take the test."

Schwarz informed the board he "broke out" student scores who identified themselves as college bound in the spring 2011 ACT test and compared them to students who tested in spring 2006.

In the spring of 2006, 186 students chose to take the ACT, scoring an average of 20.1; In 2011, 194 students identified themselves as college bound, scoring an average of 22.87.

"So you can see since '06 til now, just isolating those that are college bound, we went up 2.77 on the ACT," Schwarz said.

The Leader, along with many other media outlets, reported in its July 6 issue the district's average composite ACT score was 19.4.

Schwarz indicated during the meeting the 19.4 score "reflects the off-set of the non-college bound kids, including those from Crossroads, Crossing Bridges."

"When they (Michigan Department of Education) required that, we knew then this was going to reflect on our scores," board secretary Carol Mitchell added.

"So basically...when they include non-college bound students, they are saying that kids who do not intend to go to college, and have not taken courses to go to college and are not college ready, that is a reflection on us, when that is not their goal. That makes no sense," trustee Kim Shumaker said. "There is a certain level of science and math if you don't take it, obviously you are not going to test well on it."

Schwarz said new programs emphasizing rigor and relevance, which include an increased number of AP courses, the early college and biomedical programs at the high school, the engineering program at the middle and high school and the International Baccalaureate program preparations, are working at increasing student performance.

"To me, it's very encouraging," Mitchell said during the meeting. "I get tired of all the reports in the paper (saying) 'oh, we are going down when we know that is not the truth.' We are going up in actuality; we are testing other kids and it reflects on our testing scores."

"But this, how you broke it down and showed that we have gone up quite a bit, to me it's very encouraging. I think we are on the right track and it's exciting," she added.

"Obviously those are based on facts right off the testing scores...that really made sense and especially the numbers quantified themselves," said board Treasurer Doug Myer. "It actually makes me feel a little better because I was worried the culture of our children was maybe less aggressive towards educating themselves."

Schwarz also pointed out to the board, during the meeting, ACT puts out two types of data sets when students take them during March of their junior year and a "class of" report a year-and-a-half later with ACT scores for a graduating class, which includes scores from students who choose to retake the ACT.

"As you know, many children choose to retake the ACT two, three, sometimes even four times before they go off to college because they want that best score," he said. "So ACT continues to track that information and gives you a 'class of' when that class graduates."

Schwarz added that number is typically higher than the spring score of their junior year.

"The media loves to capture this data (spring ACT test scores) and this is what is reported. They don't report the scores after those kids have graduated a year-and-a-half later because that is the true score after those kids have retaken it," he said.

Since 2007, the "class of" composite scores have been higher than the spring scores by as much as a full two points.

The 2007 ACT spring score was 20.7; when the "class of" composite score was released, the score improved to 21.9.

In 2008, the ACT spring score was 18.8; the "class of" composite score improved to 20.8.

In 2009, the ACT spring score was 19.4; the "class of" composite score improved to 19.6.

In 2010, the ACT spring score was 19.6; the "class of" composite score improved to 20.5.

Before discussion began about ACT scores, Schwarz gave a quick presentation of the high school and district MME scores.

"What often gets reported in the papers, what often gets reported by Oakland Schools is the district (MME) score," Schwarz informed the board. "What I have done is I have broken out the high school specific scores away from the district scores...so this takes out Crossroads, this takes out Crossing Bridges and shows you a comparison to the state, the county."

Just at the high school, mastery level scores were down five percent in reading from last year (74-69), up two percent in writing (50-52), down seven percent in math (60-53), up one percent in social studies (86-87) and up five percent in science (65-70).

When comparing the above scores to state and county averages, Oxford High School was above state averages in all subject areas and above county averages in reading, social studies and science Schwarz said.

When scores from Crossroads and Crossing Bridges are factored in, the district saw reading scores decrease from last year by eight percent (71-63).

The district's writing scores were down one percent (49-48), math was down nine percent (58-49), social studies was down two percent (84-82) while science increased by one percent (63-64).

Shumaker asked if comparing Oxford to other districts within the county was fair due to the adjudicated youth facility and alternative education programs the district has.

Schwarz indicated some districts have alternative education as well, but they, along with Hazel Park, were the only districts in Oakland County with an adjudicated youth facility counting towards their test scores.

He explained after studying the district's math scores, he noticed students struggled mainly with functions.

"We are going to be remediating with teachers, particularly at the high school, that are teaching functions as a part of their course," Schwarz said. "That is an area where we really (have) got to be continuing to enrich and reinforce."

In addition to functions, Schwarz said he also saw students struggle with informational writing on the MME.

"Developmentally it is very difficult for kids to grasp that informational and technical writing components that they are asking about," he said.

"It is something we continue to strategize towards," he informed the board.

OHS principal Todd Dunckley said he was looking at a more direct approach when intervening with students.

"We have already started counting the numbers...so we can look exactly at per score, per kid, per situation and put them into one of three or four categories of how we are going to intervene on a weekly basis," Dunckley said.

"We have already identified over 30 students who we are going to put into a proven reading recovery program for 20 weeks, which will at least get them two grades up," he added.

Schwarz noted during the meeting the percentage of juniors taking the ACT test considered at-risk at the high school had risen from eight to 24 percent, which he thought was due mainly to the economic times, since the 2006-07 school year.

"This means we need to continue to shift our focus towards providing more opportunities for those non-college bound students, not just for the sake of increasing scores, but to better them," Schwarz said.

Shumaker asked if there was something the district could do for the non-college bound kids to start to have the goal of attending college.

"I am going to guess probably for a lot of those kids, high-risk, it is probably financial. So maybe because of financial issues, it is not a hope that is realistic to them," she said. "If we somehow could say to them, 'if the funds were available, would this be a goal you would work towards' and educating them there is a ton of money out there, it is just knowing where it is at...and that you really have to build a resume for your child through high school to access those funds."

"The opportunities are there...maybe we can intervene like you are saying to help educate them if it is not coming from home," Myer said.