Source: Sherman Publications

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Clarkston schools bristle over state designation

by Wendi Reardon

August 22, 2012

Under the State of Michigan's new school ranking system, three Clarkston schools need extra attention, but school officials say Clarkston kids get enough attention as it is.

"I don't see this as a good thing for Clarkston I see it as very arbitrary," said Clarkston Superintendent Dr. Rod Rock. "I see it as giving more mandates and saying we have to comply when we believe we are doing good things for kids we know our kids are improving."

Under the new state designations, Andersonville Elementary, Pine Knob Elementary and Sashabaw Middle were named "Focus Schools," based on the state-test-result gap between the top 30 percent of students and the bottom 30 percent.

The 10 percent of schools with the largest achievement gaps make the list. The state made the changes to qualify for a waiver in the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Rock said complying with No Child Left Behind and Annual Yearly Progress means schools have to improve toward 100 percent proficiency on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program test for all students by 2014.

"Because it was found to be an unrealistic target that all kids could be at that level, the states applied for waivers," he said.

"We know from talking to local schools, if 100 percent of Michigan students are proficient, there will still be 350 focus schools in the state because of the ranking," said Staci Puzio, testing and research supervisor. "It is all about ranking and not showing how our students are doing."

"There is this sense when you get information from the state you should do something different, train our teachers differently and just react to it," Rock said. "It causes you to jump on one thing to another instead of getting really good at things you know are research based and good for kids. I don't see us as a system changing much of anything."

Rock said they measure Clarkston students in more ways than just the MEAP, which is taken once a year by students in grades 3-9, while juniors take the Michigan Merit Exam. Both tests are used for to calculate the AYP.

"The reality is we are looking at multiple measures of data," said Puzio. "We are looking at what do our students really know. Using one test to determine your success is not an accurate picture of where students are at."

"One of the biggest struggles for us to keep our focus on what we know is best," said Rock. "It is based on research - to persist to do the right things for kids, to get them to think, engage their minds and think creatively to solve problems, to be innovative and collaborative. We are not going to focus on this one test kids take once a year every October. "

Both pointed out a fifth grader takes the test in October about things learned during fourth grade. The district and teacher receives the results in February when the student is already six months into the school year.

"The teachers have already uncovered for themselves where that student has been or has not been successful," Puzio added. "When they get scores, there isn't something right then the teacher can use."

"We don't want to focus on one test that happened 10 months ago," said Rock. "A lot has changed since then. We are working every day with our kids to do better. We have different tools we use on an ongoing basis to determine how our kids are doing in reading and math. Our teachers look at the data when they are working together during the delayed starts.

Rock pointed out in 2015 a new assessment called the Common Core is coming and will be more focused on problem solving instead of the multiple choice the MEAP test currently uses.

Puzio explained they don't have all the details but they know it will be towards the end of the school year and the results will be available more quicker.

"It would be better for the state to say we are changing to a new system in a few years and how a child does on a MEAP test when they are 8- or 9-years-olds is less important than their overall education," he said.

"We expect our kids to do well," added Rock. "We want our kids to do better across the board. We believe how they perform on ACT when they are in eleventh grade determines a lot of their future options for colleges and scholarships. We always want to work hard to give our kids the best opportunity we can. The best way is to engage them in the classroom, have them passionate about learning, work hard, communicate and collaborate with their classmates and how to think. It is not by focusing on the test or practice taking the test it is really getting in and engaging their minds and having great teachers."

"As we continue to work with our students to create those attitudes and skills they will be successful by those standards," said Puzio. "It's not just what we feel it is supported by research."

Michigan Department of Education will develop and provide technical assistance to districts that have Focus Schools, including MDE-trained and paid-for "district improvement facilitators."

With the assistance of these facilitators, districts will have one year to self-diagnose and self-prescribe customized changes in their supports to the Focus Schools and their students. There are escalating supports and consequences for Focus Schools that do not close their achievement gaps.

Adequate Yearly Progress was also changed. This year, AYP calculated the district as an entire unit, instead of by elementary, middle, and high school levels. The U.S. Department of Education also required that graduation rates for all students and all student population groups be included in the district AYP calculations.

About 48 percent of school districts, 262 of them, did not make AYP this year, as compared to 37, 6.7 percent, last year. At the school building level, 82 percent of schools made AYP, compared to 79 percent last year.

Beginning next year, the state will be issuing an Accountability Scorecard that uses five different colors to recognize varying levels of achievement accountability for each school and district, according to MDE.

Over 280 schools in Michigan have been designated as Reward Schools for either high student achievement or making tremendous progress in student achievement, according to the state.

In Clarkston, Independence Elementary was named a Reward School for the 2012-2013 school year.