Source: Sherman Publications

District responds to red rating

by Trevor Keiser

September 04, 2013

Oxford Board of Education members were not pleased about the district’s receipt of a “red” rating, the lowest rating under the new color coded School Accountability Scorecards handed out by the Michigan Department of Education.

They discussed it at their Aug. 28 meeting.

For more information on the scorecard grading system see the story “Red Alert” in the Aug. 28 edition of the Oxford Leader.

Board Secretary Kim Shumaker said the new system “makes no sense.”

“The frightening thing is somebody came up with this, but then a lot of people supported this and we’re now living by this (system),” she said. “That’s what is scary to me.”

Superintendent Dr. William Skilling said the system was “slapped together in haste.”

“That’s why it’s so stupid. Why it was slapped together in haste was to give the state an extension on Academic Yearly Progress,” explained Skilling. “I don’t care about AYP. Who cares? Say we don’t have Adequate Yearly Progress, what difference does it make?”

“They slapped all this together so we didn’t have all these schools not making adequate yearly progress,” he continued. “Under No Child Left Behind no school is going to make AYP, it’s guaranteed every district in the state of Michigan and the United States is going to fail. This is what keeps us in good graces to get federal funding.”

Skilling also said “parents will be aghast because they have no idea what this (test) means.”

Trustee Dan D’Alessandro agreed.

“I’ve read it twice and looked at it twice and I still don’t understand it. It’s mind-boggling. I’m all for being the best district that we can be, but we shouldn’t even worry about this,” D’Alessandro said.

“How do we go forward and be the best district we can be and still go out there and attract students because obviously, everybody is going to look at this in the newspaper and say ‘Oh, there’s Oxford again.’”

To him, nothing is as important as to how the test affects the students themselves.

“At the end of the day, what happens is we as parents get the test (results) mailed to us. We open (it) up and what’s at the end of it?” asked D’Alessandro.

“It’s a kid that says ‘I didn’t pass the test’ and his self-esteem goes in the toilet and it’s left to the parents and the district to bring that kid back up. I can tell you that for a fact. This is wrong, absolutely, positively wrong.”

Another part of the test scores that was frustrating to board members was that special education and at-risk students were held to the same standards as any other students.

“This is just sad,” said Collen Schultz, board president.

Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Denise Sweat said there are “very specific accommodations they can provide as it relates to special education students.”

“There are standard accommodations and nonstandard accommodations. You can do things like extend the time, test in a quiet place, if it’s a non-reading test, you can have it read,” she said. “It’s frustration I feel for our kids with disabilities because you’re saying ‘Here take this test.’”

Trustee Jim Reis asked if the idea of the test is to bring underachieving students with learning disabilities up, then why can’t those students be separated out?

“It would make sense to me to break them out individually and focus on that group (that is special education or at-risk) and help those ones to come up instead of lumping it all together and making schools get a red.”

“Because ‘No Child Left Behind’ said ‘No Child Left Behind,’ explained Sweat. “Prior to No Child Left Behind you could take a special education student and say you have a significant reading disability, we’re going to exempt you from standardized testing. We can’t do that anymore. All students must test.”

Shumaker agreed with Reis that it’s an unfair system to the students with learning disabilities.

“Even ACTs, which colleges live and die by, give kids with those learning disabilities alternative methods to taking the test and they get the score they get,” she said. “They don’t ding them because they have a learning disability.”

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction Dr. James Schwarz told board members, he believes there is a “political motivation behind the craftiness and statistics (of the test.)”

“It wants to send the general public a message about public schools and not a very positive message about public education,” he said.

“The big message,” according to Skilling is a push for the need of the “Common Core,” a nationalized standard test, set to replace both the MEAP and MME (Michigan Merit Exam) in 2015, which Skilling is strongly opposed too.

“This has nothing to do with academic performance, none whatsoever, it has to do with the percentage of kids tested. This is why I emphasize that Common is ‘common’ because one of things Common Core is trying to do is standardize education where everybody is at the same place at the same time,” he said.

“It does not consider individual talents, interests, abilities, aptitude, motivation it doesn’t matter. It’s common. That’s what this is about. Everybody has to be the same. It’s not about how you perform overall as much as everybody is the same.”

To further prove his point, Skilling said the MDE “adjusted the grading system a few times” because when it first came out a lot of districts were “in the red,” which are now in the yellow rating. He used the International Academy as an example.

“If this is really about performance then International Academy which typically is in the top five and sometimes number one in the United States for performance on IB exams and things like that. You would think they might make green wouldn’t you? They’re yellow,” Skilling said. “Your highest social-economic performer from Oakland County is yellow. It isn’t about achievement.”

Despite what the test results say, Schultz said she still stands behind public education.

“Public education (means) we educate all the kids no matter what background they come from, what their IQ is or what their disabilities are,” she said. “I know the governor is pushing us (away) from public education, but I am pretty firm and believe very strongly in it.”

Reis believes all the hours the district has had to put into complying with the different standards handed down has been a “waste of productivity.”

“I understand they did this to get the waiver, but no thought went into it,” Reis said. “It’s just to me a waste of productivity and time the way they’ve come up with this formula (for the accountability test.)”

To D’Alessandro, this test was a real eye-opener to what their focus really needs to be.

“We all have difficulties on the board and sometimes it gets frustrating to listen what was presented here today,” he said. “It’s frustrating to hear people that believe they know what’s best for kids are making decisions and then we have to pick up the pieces.”

“It makes me realize we sit up here and we make decisions for everybody by the polices we set and at the end of the day it’s about a kid,” continued D’Alessandro with tear-filled eyes. “We shouldn’t lose sight of that.”