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Clinton Township, Macomb Township

August 27, 2014

Chippewa Valley gets ‘yellow’ ranking from state

By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer

CLINTON TOWNSHIP/MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Chippewa Valley Schools fared pretty well on the Michigan Department of Education’s (MDE) 2013-14 Top to Bottom Rankings and Accountability Scorecards, but district officials are not convinced that these enormously detailed assessments provide an accurate picture of a school’s strengths and weaknesses.

According to Superintendent Ron Roberts, “It’s a lot simpler than all of this data makes it look. There’s a ton of data out there, and sometimes it can be overwhelming to figure out how (the MDE) arrived at these results, and then figure out how to translate it all into strategies that can improve classroom instruction and student achievement. I’m just not convinced that all these lists and rankings and colors are helping us get to where we need to go.”

The MDE’s annual Top to Bottom Rankings list all Michigan public schools from worst to best, evaluating them based on student performance in math, science, reading, writing and social studies, as well as the graduation rate for high schools. Components that factor into the list include student achievement levels, improvement over time and the achievement gap between the highest- and lowest-scoring 30 percent of students at each school.

This year in Chippewa Valley Schools, Clinton Valley Elementary School finished in the 32nd percentile; Erie Elementary School, 36th percentile; Cherokee Elementary School, 52nd percentile; Chippewa Valley High School, 54th percentile; Algonquin Middle School, 58th percentile; Fox Elementary School, Huron Elementary School and Wyandot Middle School, 60th percentile; Mohawk Elementary School, 64th percentile; Ojibwa Elementary School, 68th percentile; Dakota High School, 69th percentile; Miami Elementary School, 70th percentile; Iroquois Middle School, 71st percentile; Seneca Middle School, 72nd percentile; Sequoyah Elementary School, 74th percentile; Ottawa Elementary School, 76th percentile; Shawnee Elementary School, 82nd percentile; and Cheyenne Elementary School, 85th percentile.

Roberts was especially pleased to see that the rankings for both Chippewa Valley and Dakota high schools improved from a year ago. Other schools whose rankings increased were Huron and Seneca, while Ojibwa remained roughly the same. However, every other school in the district saw its ranking decline from the 2012-13 school year.

The Top to Bottom Rankings are also used to determine the state’s Reward Schools, which include the top 5 percent of all schools on the list, as well as the top 5 percent of schools making the greatest academic progress over the previous four years and the schools that outperform their expected ranking or other similar schools; its Focus Schools, which are the 10 percent of schools with the widest achievement gap between their highest- and lowest-achieving students; and its Priority Schools, which are the bottom 5 percent of all schools on the list.

Chippewa Valley Schools did not have any schools included in any of these three categories this year, but Roberts noted that Ottawa was a Reward School in 2012-13 and Cherokee was a Reward School in 2011-12.

“While we don’t have any Reward Schools this year,” Roberts said, “we also don’t have any Priority Schools or Focus Schools, which is definitely a good thing for our district.”

The main component of the MDE’s Accountability Scorecards is assigning each school and district a numerical score and a corresponding color based on how many points they earn in a variety of areas. Schools that earn at least 85 percent of all possible points are given the highest rating of green, while those that earn 70-85 percent of their points are designated lime, 60-70 percent are yellow, 50-60 percent are orange, and less than 50 percent are red.

As a district, Chippewa Valley Schools received a yellow overall rating, earning 91 of 126 possible points, or about 72.2 percent. Most individual schools within the district were also designated yellow, although five schools — Cheyenne, Sequoyah, Shawnee, Mohawk and Ottawa — received a lime rating and Mohegan Alternative High School received a red rating.

Roberts was disappointed that his district finished in the middle of the pack, as a yellow rating essentially translates to a “C” letter grade under the MDE’s new method of scoring.

“I think this color system is better than using a letter system,” he said, “but I also think that our yellow schools are a lot better than average. I know that we have excellent schools, despite what this assessment seems to indicate.”

According to Dr. Judy Pritchett, chief academic officer for the Macomb Intermediate School District (MISD), many of Chippewa Valley’s color ratings came out weaker than the numbers show because if a school receives a red grade in any category, it can have a detrimental impact on its overall rating.

For instance, she said, if a school has any red cells in its assessment, that school cannot be rated green overall. Similarly, schools that receive red cells in certain categories can score no better than yellow or orange. As Pritchett explained, these red cells are most typically given when student subgroups do not not achieve their academic goals or fall short of adequate participation levels.

Pritchett pointed out that the MDE replaced its annual Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) evaluations last year with these Accountability Scorecards, but the new system has largely maintained the all-or-nothing approach of the old one.

“There’s no question that it’s frustrating,” she said. “We’re not dealing with widgets here — we’re dealing with human beings. There is so much more that goes into making a school what it is than this (type of data). Assessments are important, but they’re not everything.”

In Roberts’ view, the Accountability Scorecards tend to portray the majority of schools, even those with great track records, as being mediocre.

“The larger of a school you are and the more diverse you are, the more difficult it is to do well on this assessment because there are so many more points that will factor into your score,” he said. “It’s all a function of those red cells, which tend to push all schools toward the middle. … So if you want to do well on this (assessment) and you live in a community with higher socioeconomics, with little diversity, with a small special education population, then your chances of being a green school are much greater, just by the nature of the beast.”

Pritchett believes that although such statistics can be helpful, parents need to consider many other factors when choosing a school for their child or evaluating their child’s current school. She advised parents to “do their homework” by visiting their child’s school, meeting the principals and teachers, and visiting the classrooms — and then seeing how that experience compares with the official assessment data from the MDE.

“Don’t let this scorecard, or any other state assessment, be your sole determining factor,” Pritchett said. “You’ve got to look beyond the colors and the rankings to dig deeper if you want to get an accurate picture of a school, and whether your student will thrive in that particular environment.”

Or, as Roberts put it, “We love to rank things in this society, but ranking a school is tough because there are so many intangibles to consider. Our job as a district is not to overreact to that data, but to figure out how we can use it to get better. You have to keep everything in perspective. Otherwise, you just end up chasing rainbows.”

For more information, go to www.mischooldata.org and click on the “Dashboard & Accountability Scorecard” button on the left side of the page.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jeremy Selweski at jSelweski@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5004.