When it comes to test scores, Heritage Elementary School ranks in the 90th percentile of Michigan schools. Yet, based on the same scores, the school is being targeted by the state for improvement.
That’s a result of new Michigan Department of Education.
Despite receiving “A” grades, Heritage and Woodland Elementary were designated as “Focus Schools,” which are the top 10 percent of schools in the state in terms of widest achievement gaps — the disparity between the top 30 and bottom 30 percent of students. Pleasant Ridge Elementary School, which received a “B” grade, was also named a “Focus School.”
Saline Area Schools Superintendent Scot Graden said he was glad to see Saline schools meet “Adequate Yearly Progress,” which measures student achievement on statewide assessments as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and receive good grades. He also assured parents that the "Focus Schools" designation is nothing to be alarmed over.
“One thing I want people to understand is that our student scores haven’t changed dramatically. These new designations have left a lot of people scratching their heads a little bit,” Graden said. “At the same time, addressing the achievement gap is something that we are not shying away from. We want our students to be as successful as possible. That’s our true mission and we’re serious about that for all Saline students.”
As Graden said, there are only two ways to close an “achievement gap.”
“You can lower the students at the top or raise the students at the bottom. We’re dedicated, obviously, to raising the students at the bottom,” Graden said. “We’re not looking for a race to the middle.”
The “achievement gap” is nothing new to Saline schools. In recent years the district has addressed the gap with programs like early literacy initiatives.
“We know that if children are reading at a proficient level by third grade they’re much more likely to be strong readers in high school,” Graden said, adding that the new all-day kindergarten program may be another opportunity to intervene with students who need extra attention.
Graden said the test scores show that district is addressing the gap.
“We have the gap at some of our elementary schools, but the gap is reduced as students go on to middle school and high school,” Graden said.
Administration is expected to address the issue at the district’s next school board meeting.
According to a press release from the Michigan Department of Education, the MDE will develop and provide a “District Toolkit” for districts that have Focus Schools. MDE will provide technical assistance to these districts on the use of the toolkits in the form of 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.
Districts that continue to have schools identified as “Focus Schools” in 2013-14 will have to purchase the services of a facilitator who will study the data and recommend a plan.
Along with Focus Schools, the MDE also created a “Reward Schools” designation.
Saline High School and Harvest Elementary both achieved “Reward School” status, which goes to the top five percent of all Michigan schools in the annual top-to-bottom ranking and the top five percent making the greatest academic progress over the past four years.
“We’re certainly proud to have Saline High School and Harvest for that accomplishment,” Graden said.