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October 9, 2013

School officials find state accountability scorecards flawed

By Kevin Bunch
C & G Staff Writer

ROSEVILLE — The state’s new academic scorecard program, used to determine what shape schools are in, is “rigged” and inaccurate, according to Macomb Intermediate School District Chief Academic Officer Judy Pritchett.

Pritchett said the scorecard uses five colors to indicate the strength of the school, ranging from green to lime, yellow, orange and red. How the system arrives at those conclusions is what concerns her.

“I found this particular system is one of the most confusing processes that the Michigan Department of Education has come up with in several years — and they have come up with some interesting processes,” Pritchett said.

The scorecard’s testing results come mainly from the Michigan Educational Assessment Program exam, or in high school, the Michigan Merit Exam. Pritchett said student proficiency on those tests, as well as the number of eligible students who took them, are accounted for in the scorecard.

Michigan Department of Education Director of the Office of Evaluation, Strategic Research and Accountability Chris Janzer said the scorecard stems from a waiver the state received last year from the No Child Left Behind Act, and this is the first year it has gone into effect. It is based primarily on a point system in multiple categories.

Janzer said the system replaces the Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, evaluation system that the state used as part of the No Child Left Behind requirements.

“It’s a diagnostic tool,” he said. “There are no consequences to having a red scorecard.”

According to the MDE, 82 percent of schools in the state received yellow, lime or orange colors. Only 3 percent had the green rank, and 15 percent had the red rank.

In Roseville, Kaiser Elementary and Kment Elementary both received red designations, while all other schools in the district were yellow. Meanwhile, in Eastpointe, Crescentwood Elementary and Forest Park Elementary received green ratings. Kelly Middle School had a yellow rating, while Bellview Elementary, East Detroit High School and Pleasantview Elementary each received red designations.

Both the Roseville and East Detroit school districts had an overall yellow designation. Results can be found at mischooldata.org.

Janzer said the top-to-bottom rating system also used by the state, which labels schools based on how strong or how in need they are, is intermingled with the scorecard to a small degree, as well. Any school labeled a “priority school” in the top-to-bottom rating is automatically red on the scorecard, he said, while schools that would otherwise be labeled a top-rated “reward school” in the top-to-bottom rating can lose that designation if they come in red on the scorecard.

Based on the size and makeup of the school, the scorecards may have different numbers of categories and thus a different number of points to reach a certain overall color level, Pritchett said. The points are added up, divided by the school’s total number of points, and the result would be the school’s overall color, she said.

Pritchett said it is extremely difficult for a school to make it to the upper echelons of the scorecard under its current setup, adding that every category would need students to fall into the 90th percentile to reach green. If a school has even one red color in any category, it will automatically be bumped down to yellow overall.

“We find it confusing, and I’m not sure parents are able to get a clear picture of the school and the programs they are providing. It’s one measurement, but its not the only measurement,” Pritchett said. “My message to parents and the community is there is a lot more to a school than the color that shows up on those scorecards, and they should want to investigate a particular school or district to see what is going on.”

Janzer said the scorecard is not meant to compare schools, however, and actually is a diagnostic tool for schools and the state to see where their problems are. He did say that the system needs some further tweaks to be more effective as a diagnostic tool, and that people have been using it to compare schools.

He said the MDE is looking at tweaking the rule in which a single red score in a category knocks the school’s overall color down to a yellow.

Pritchett said she liked the scorecard’s percentage point system regarding the MEAP and MME tests, and believed they paint a more accurate picture of a school’s condition than the colors.

Roseville school board President Theresa Genest called the presentation “very disturbing” and said Pritchett had been sharing these concerns at the MDE’s board meetings.

Roseville Superintendent John Kment also is not a fan of the scorecard program, believing that the AYP system was a more accurate picture of a school’s overall health.

“Our scores were actually higher than a building in another district that was rated a reward school, so there’s something wrong when one building’s scores are higher and another is lower but they aren’t given the same classification,” Kment said, referring to Indian Hills Elementary School that received a yellow color while John R. Kment Elementary received a red. “You can see that system showed we have more greens than a school that was given the reward classification.”

East Detroit Superintendent Joanne Lelekatch could not be reached for comment by press time.

Pritchett said the state’s goal is for all students to reach 85 percent proficiency in all categories by 2022. The target growth rates are dependent on how far off the mark a school is; schools that perform poorly have to achieve greater proficiency leaps each year than those that perform better, she said.

Janzer said that the No Child Left Behind law required 100 percent proficiency by 2014, but thanks to the waiver, the state was able to change it to something more manageable.

“While we all want all children to be at 100 percent, the reality is 85 percent is probably a little more reasonable,” he said. “We all have high expectations for students, and again, it’s based on one test, and you always have to keep that in mind.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Kevin Bunch at kbunch@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.