New State Designations Focus of School Board Discussion

 08/15/2012 - 00:44

 

Recent statewide report cards released by the Michigan Department of Education showed Saline Area Schools are among the best in the state when it comes to student achievement.

New status designations delivered with the report cards cast more positive light on Saline High School and Harvest Elementary School. The schools were dubbed “Rewards” schools, which are the top five percent of schools on the annual Top-to-Bottom ranking of all Michigan schools, and the top five percent of schools making the greatest academic progress over the previous four years. 

Saline school officials were less enthusiastic about having three of their high-performing schools being dubbed “Focus” schools – meaning the state has targeted them for improvement.

At Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, assistant superintendent Steve Laatsch explained the new designations. Focus Schools are the 10 percent of schools with the widest gaps between the top 30 percent of students and bottom 30 percent of students, he said.

“I want to make one thing clear. This new designation does not mean our schools are failing,” Laatsch told the board, adding that Saline’s three “Focus” schools have better achievement scores than 2,180 of the state’s 2,867 schools.

The new designations were created as a tradeoff when the MDE requested waivers from the federal government because schools could not meet requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The “Focus” school designation is meant to place a brighter focus on the struggling students in those schools. Laatsch said the district is well aware of its low achieving students and is aggressively working to improve their performance. Trustee David Zimmer said he’s tracked the data for 15 years and the achievement gap is nothing new.

“Harvest Elementary wasn’t here. But the patterns were the same. The achievement gap is not a new story,” Zimmer said. “What has been very positive is that by the time these students get to middle school and high school, we’ve brought kids up. That’s a great success and its a testament to the work of (Laatsch) and everyone working in the district.”

Zimmer said he has concerns about early learning readiness. He noted that the three “Focus” schools have had some performance issues for several years and asked if there was more the district can do to prepare children for school.

Laatsch said the district is more committed than ever to intervention at a young age.

“Kindergarten is the key. We’ve spent a lot of time and pushed out staff out of their comfort zones on some things we are trying,” Laatsch said.

One tactic has been to group students based on what their needs are.

Zimmer wondered if there was more the district could do for students before kindergarten.

Superintendent Scot Graden said one new initiative this year is the “Great Start Readiness Program” at Pooh Corner, a preschool run by Community Education. Graden said the program has opened up 18 spots that the district can use to offer tuition-free programming for families that need the financial help.

Graden said there has been much debate in education circles about the demands of academics at such a young age.

Trustee Todd Carter suggested the district be cautious about getting too demanding of youngsters.

“It is my belief that parents are the ultimate educators of their children and getting them ready for school. We should be careful about taking kids away from their parents before the right time. We should tread lightly on that line,” Carter said. “I’d prefer to see adult education where we teach parents how to make sure their children are ready for school.”

Graden said the district is held accountable for all the students regardless of their parents’ ability to ready their children for school.

Graden said he does not consider the new designations an appropriate way to deal with achievement gaps. He said  some districts are simply going to shuffle kids from one school to another to make the numbers work and reduce the achievement gap.

Grouping kids in schools based on their performance might reduce the gap, but it might not be good for preparing students for college.

“Research shows that a diversity of achievement performance helps all kids,” Graden said.

Trustee David Holden asked if there were any punitive measures that come with being named a “Focus” school.

Laatsch said it depends on how many years a school remains a “Focus“ school. He said another byproduct of the designation is that districts will have to offer transfer options from “Focus” schools if they are also “Title 1” schools.

“We’re still working through what that means. We don’t want parents to think they’re sending their children to a poor school,” Laatsch said.

Pleasant Ridge is a Title-1 participating school and a “Focus” school.

Trustee Chuck Lesch suggested board members should contact state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan and voice opposition to the new designations.

“Parents are going to hear this and think the sky is falling,” Lesch said.

Laatsch said he is attending a meeting at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District Friday to learn more about the new designations. Regardless of the new measurements, the district is committed to reducing the achievement gap and helping youngsters get up to speed earlier in their development, he said.

“We can’t ignore this. We were never ignoring this. Not because of a designation. But because it’s the right thing to do,” Laatsch said.

School AYP Met? Reading Math Ed Yes Grade Percentile Status
Harvest Yes Yes Yes A 95 Reward
Pleasant Ridge Yes Yes Yes B 76 Focus
Woodland Meadows Yes Yes Yes A 89 Focus
Heritage Yes Yes Yes A 90 Focus
Saline Middle School Yes Yes Yes A 91 NONE
Saline High School Yes Yes Yes A 94 Reward
Saline Alt High School No Yes No NA NA NONE

 

Tran Longmoore's picture
Tran Longmoore
Tran Longmoore is a veteran community journalist. He is founder and owner of TheSalinePost.com. He is co-publisher of The Saline Post weekly newspaper. Email him at tran@thesalinepost.com or call him at 734-272-6294.

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