August 13, 2014 at 10:00 am

Handful of Metro Detroit school districts gain on state scorecards

Since last year, 13 school districts in Metro Detroit improved while seven lost ground in an assessment released Wednesday by the Michigan Department of Education.

The Michigan School Accountability Scorecards — which examine academic achievement and other measures — show especially dramatic improvement in Romulus, Royal Oak, South Redford, Huron Valley and Oxford schools. The five school districts moved up two rings of the color-coded assessment ladder, from red to yellow, when compared to last year. Eight others also improved, moving up one ring.

Meanwhile, the Walled Lake Consolidated School District declined the most of any district in Metro Detroit, falling two rings in the color-coded ladder, from yellow to red. Six other districts fell one ring.

Walled Lake spokeswoman Judy Evola said the district’s slide in the rankings “had nothing to do with student achievement, but two compliance factors,” both involving the social studies test for the Michigan Educational Assessment Program.

Less than 95 percent of 6th grade special education students and 11th grade shared educational entity students took the tests in question.

“Walled Lake Schools’ overall score/rating, based on student proficiency on MEAP, was actually quite good,” she said.

Also on Wednesday, the state also released its list of Reward, Focus and Priority schools and Top-to-Bottom rankings.

Reward schools include the top 5 percent in the state as well as the top 5 percent in academic progress over the last four years.

Focus schools have the biggest achievement gaps and priority schools are the worst performing.

Overall, according to the Department of Education, more than one-third of the schools in the priority class last year improved enough to shed that designation in this year’s report.

“These improvements are good news for these schools,” state Superintendent Mike Flanagan said. “Many schools are making progress, others continue to struggle.”

On the other hand, 60 schools were added to the priority list.

Under state law, priority schools are required to implement a state-supervised intervention model to improve student performance.

The Education Trust-Midwest, a think tank based in Royal Oak, says its analysis shows about 29 percent more schools reached most of their goals this year than last. But, according to the analysis, the overall results hide the fact that too many schools are not meeting the needs of all of their students.

“Districts can have a relatively high state rating, while still seeing their low-income and students of color perform at very low proficiency levels,” said Amber Arellano, the group’s executive director.

The state’s largest district, Detroit Public Schools, remained in the red category, but district spokesman Steve Wasko touted gains at dozens of individual schools.

“Thirty-four schools improved their status, and two remained stable on the state of Michigan’s annual Priority School list, while an additional eight schools showed academic performance sufficient to remain above the 5 percentile mark for the second consecutive year,” he said.

Of the 87 school districts in Livingston, Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, none received the two highest rankings of green and lime green — same as last year. Among individual schools in Metro Detroit, just nine achieved green status.

The scorecards, released for the second straight year, assess strengths and weakness of school districts, using student data assessment along with graduation, attendance and compliance with state and federal laws.

At the top of the color-coded ladder is green, awarded when districts attain 85 percent or more of the possible points. It is followed by lime-green, yellow and orange. Red is the lowest rung of the ladder, given when districts attain less than 50 percent of possible points.

Most local school districts maintained the same rating the state gave them last year.

However, several districts moved up one ranking from orange to yellow, including Fowlerville, Warren Woods, Novi, Clarkston and Dearborn Heights. Districts moving up one slot from red to orange included Mount Clemens and Hamtramck.

Meanwhile, a handful of districts dropped one ranking from yellow to orange, including East Detroit, South Lake and Crestwood, while Southfield, Waterford and Madison slid one slot from orange to red.

Madison Superintendent Randy Speck said the scorecard system, which some educators have criticized as too complex and confusing, does not convey the progress the Oakland County district is making.

“Madison schools do not have any schools listed as focus or priority, and we continue to believe that the work being done by our staff is meeting the individual needs of students,” he said. “There has been much improvement over the past several years, and it is unfortunate that (the) color system in place does not recognize that growth.”

Waterford Public Schools Superintendent John Silveri said he is “proud of the fact that all of our schools either maintained or improved their ranking from last year.”

“However, this year our assessment participation rate did not meet the state requirement, more due to how we reported our participation than to actual participation,” he said. “As a result, the MDE reduced our district ranking to red overall.”

Silveri said four of their elementary schools improved to lime status, while most others maintained or improved to yellow. One school, Waterford Durant High, fell in the red category and was designated a priority school.

Jacqueline Robinson, a spokeswoman for Southfield Public Schools, said the district passed scorecard targets in four of five sections.

“Our current standing is due to the district failing to test 95 percent of our students in two subgroup areas (equaling 3-4 students) due to a misidentification of the students,” she said. “It is not due to a decline in student performance.”

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com
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