2018-04-05 / Local News

New state school report shows variance among local districts

Heads of schools question the report
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

A new rating system to provide more academic information about schools throughout the state has been unveiled by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE).

And for the most part, Leelanau County schools are looking good.

The system provides an overall numerical rating for schools from 0 to 100 for the 2016-17 school year based on a number of categories. Criteria includes academic performance on tests and school quality. Ratings were also provided in up to six separate categories.

Glen Lake, the county’s largest school district, led the way with an overall index of 89.42.

“We are pleased with the recognition but we know there’s still room for improvement,” Glen Lake superintendent Sander Scott said. “The index measures a holistic approach to a high quality, comprehensive learning environment, and that’s our emphasis at Glen Lake.”

The new system replaces the old “top-to-bottom” ranking in which each district received a percentile ranking based on how it compared with other districts. The list was criticized because schools that ranked in the bottom were often in high poverty areas.

The latest ranking takes into account data in different areas and are weighted. Some 34 percent of the ranking is based on student growth; student proficiency, 29 percent; student quality, 14 percent; graduation rate, 10 percent; English learner progress, 10 percent and assessment participation.

Not every school is rated in all six categories because some don’t apply. Such is the case with elementary schools that don’t have any “graduates.”

Unlike other county schools, Suttons Bay has more than one index. There’s one each for its elementary school, high school and virtual school.

Suttons Bay High School came in at 83.3 and its elementary at 67.99.

The district’s virtual school, however, lagged behind with a rating of just 36.25.

William Disessa, MDE spokesman confirmed, that Suttons Bay Virtual School has been identified an as needing “Comprehensive Support and Improvement” due to its graduation rate which is “well below” the threshold in that category. As such, the virtual school is identified as a “partnership school” for which state resources are available to assist in the improvement process, Disessa said.

The graduation rate is listed at 21.59 percent.

But there’s more to the story, according to Suttons Bay superintendent Mike Carmean.

“Suttons Bay Virtual is a K-12 virtual school, so these scores not only represent the high school students, but also the elementary students,” he said.

In addition, many virtual students are already performing far below grade level before enrolling.

“I would suspect that the scores in the next year’s report will show a dramatic increase for school year 2017-18,” Carmean said. “In (June) 2017, 100 percent of seniors graduated.”

The new system is not a one-size fits approach. For example, the Genesee County Jail program (a school within the jail) had an index of 100 percent. That was due to only one factor — attendance.

“The data is good, but it is almost two years old,” Carmean continued. “Suttons Bay has gone through some major change in those two years.

“I believe the index for Suttons Bay Virtual School will show an improvement when the index is released next year.”

Elsewhere in the county, Leland Public School had an overall index of 86.88 and Northport registered a 79.38.

While the ratings are positive — no state intervention is necessary — administrators at both schools question the efficacy of the new system.

“I don’t think these ratings made a difference in terms of our effectiveness running a school,” Leland superintendent Jason Stowe said. “We focus on providing the bests education possible to our students and we’re doing well in all those categories.”

Stowe is also wary of state evaluations as they have not been consistent, making it hard to compare one year to the next.

“It’s a moving target,” he said.

Evaluation of small schools such as Northport can look vastly different from year to year.

“Because of FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) we can’t report information from certain demographic subgroups because the students would be easily identified,” Northport superintendent Neil Wetherbee said.

Variants in class size and performance from year to year also skew findings.

“Our MSTEP (state standardized test) scores are usually average. But last year, we had a group that ranked 18th in the state,” Wetherbee said. “The bottom-line is high quality schools aren’t identified by a single aspect.

“It’s much more than standardized scores. It’s everything working together.”

For a closer look at the data go to www.mischooldata.org/schoolindex.

Return to top