Mich. Lists Schools That Miss Progress Marks

By Bess Keller — April 23, 2003 4 min read
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The apple of Michigan education could have looked a lot more wormy last week when Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm announced her plan to help some of the state’s lowest-performing schools.

As it was, just 216 schools ended up on the list of those that had failed to meet student-performance standards set by the state in compliance with the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001.

That number contrasts with the 1,513 Michigan schools that federal officials provided last summer in a preview of how many schools each state might list as needing corrective action under the law, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Michigan is among the last states this school year to officially identify underperforming schools, which, by virtue of being on the list, are subject to possible new penalties. The consequences, depending on how many years “adequate progress” on state test scores has not been made, include letting children attend schools not on the list and giving them transportation, subsidizing tutoring for students, and revamping school operations. After that, a school could be shut.

The current list of low performers includes elementary and middle schools. State officials are waiting for federal officials to pass judgment on their plan for reporting high school scores.

Of the 216 schools— from the just over 2,200 evaluated—96 are in the Detroit school district. The districts with the next-highest numbers are Flint, with 18, and Grand Rapids, with 15. The schools are overwhelmingly in poor communities.

Michigan officials explained the drop from more than 1,500 schools to a couple hundred by pointing to the higher standards the state set in the mid-1990s in response to the previous version of the ESEA.

Adjustments Made

Late last year, the Michigan state school board agreed to adjust the calculations determining which schools have not met academic standards in accordance with the No Child Left Behind Act, the centerpiece of President Bush’s education agenda.

State officials used the federal formula to establish “adequate yearly progress” levels. The federal formula sets benchmarks at ever-higher levels until all students reach the state’s definition of prfocient by 2014.

Jeremy M. Hughes, the chief academic officer for the state education department, said that while the state had ealier required 75 percent of the students in a school to reach the “proficient” level on any state test for that school to meet the standard, the federal plan demands less. For example, only 38 percent of the students in a school need to reach the “proficient” level on the elementary reading test for the school to “pass.”

In addition, the state’s accountability system uses scores from tests in four subjects, while the federal plan considers only reading and mathematics scores.

Some people disagree with the state’s interpretation of success and failure.

Jim Sandy, the executive director of Michigan Business Leaders for Educational Excellence, called it “disingenuous” for state education officials to tout the 88 percent of Michigan elementary and middle schools that had made “adequate progress” and avoided the list, as the state education department did in a press release last week. “You don’t have to do much to get over the bar,” he said.

Governor Weighs In

Nonetheless, Mr. Sandy welcomed the spotlight the list puts on the 95 schools that have failed to meet the progress standards—derived under both the old and the new versions of the ESEA—for four years. In the case of those schools, districts must decide what major changes to carry out beginning this coming fall, such as replacing staff members, increasing the districts’ role in school management, and appointing outside advisers.

“Now we can rally round and address the needs of those 95 schools,” Mr. Sandy said.

Gov. Granholm issued a similar call on the day the list was released, pledging help from various state agencies for the nearly 200 schools that have not met the standards for three or four years.

“We can see precisely where the schools are hurting, so we can see precisely where to target resources,” she said in a statement.

The Democratic governor, who took office in January, laid out a plan that includes funneling more federal grant money to the schools, bringing them additional social services, stepping up early-reading initiatives and parent education, and arranging for partnerships with business and religious groups.

Also under the plan, each school must craft a state-approved blueprint for meeting the goals and send administrators to state-sponsored “educational leadership” sessions starting next month.

A spokeswoman for the Grand Rapids schools said officials from the nine schools in her 25,000-student district that failed to meet the standards for three or four years are already meeting at least monthly to improve their work.

“There were no surprises for us” on the list, said Susan M. Kreiger, the district spokeswoman. “We’ve been working on a real improvement effort since our new superintendent came in July.”

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