District discusses new school report cards

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published August 27, 2013

HARPER WOODS — The new color-coded report cards and top-to-bottom rankings for 2012-13 were released by the state last week, and districts have been working to digest the information.

It’s an elaborate formula. Ultimately, though, the goal is to show which schools are on their way to attaining the new goal of 85 percent proficiency in academic categories by 2022. The previous goal, which was under No Child Left Behind, was for students to be at 100 percent by next year.

“This new color-coded system provides a meaningful diagnostic tool that gives schools, districts, parents and the public an easy way to identify strengths and weaknesses,” state Superintendent Mike Flanagan said in a press release. “It provides greater transparency and detail on multiple levels of school performance.”

Those colors are green for schools that attain 85 percent or more of the possible points in the categories measured, lime for 70 percent to 84 percent, yellow for 60 percent to 69 percent, orange for 50 percent to 59 percent and red for fewer than 50 percent of the possible points.

Only 3 percent of schools earned green designations, and many of the top-performing schools missed the mark. Most schools earned yellow, orange or lime designations.

In Harper Woods, the overall district status was red, while Beacon Elementary and the middle school earned yellow designations, and Tyrone Elementary received an orange.

Harper Woods High School has been labeled a Priority School, which means it was in the bottom 5 percent of the top-to-bottom rankings. 

Superintendent Todd Biederwolf explained that even some high-performing schools in the area, like Grosse Pointe North and South and Cass Tech, didn’t earn high color designations. Cass Tech received yellow, and the Grosse Pointe high schools earned red.

“It’s a metric that we need to understand better, but it is also a challenging metric even for the most highly successful schools,” Biederwolf said.

The test takes into account the performance of subgroups, like racial identification, and adding in a new category — the lowest performing 30 percent of students.

“This is expected to have schools focusing on every student’s academic growth,” Flanagan stated in the press release. “We believe that every school can reach these goals.”

Students self-identify their ethnic groups, and students with an individualized education plan fall into the special-education category. The economically disadvantaged subgroup includes those who receive free and reduced lunch.

Harper Woods Schools Director of Academic Accountability and Student Services David Rabbideau gave a presentation at the Aug. 20 school board meeting about the new report cards.

He explained that if the district schools were given a color designation based on all student performance, they would have had higher color designations. One thing that held the high school back was being labeled a Priority School, because Priority Schools do not qualify for anything other than red designations, no matter their scores.

“We could have been 100 percent, (and) we would have been red,” board Vice President David Kien commented.

“It is complex,” Rabbideau said of the new system.

He talked about how the schools were highly rated when it came to all students. For instance, Beacon received six out of six possible points in the all-student category. Tyrone received 10 of 10, the middle school earned 8 of 10 and the high school earned 10 of 10.

Superintendent Todd Biederwolf said that the goal is for all subgroups to score the same as the all-student category.

“You shouldn’t see any variance,” he said.

Some subgroups fared well with percentages in the 80s for points earned.

However, the bottom 30 percent subgroup was where the bigger issue arose, which also played out in some of the highest-performing schools in the area.

In that category, Harper Woods reached 9 percent of the targets throughout the district.

While some subgroups had high percentages, Biederwolf said, “there’s nothing to celebrate here” when talking about the bottom 30 percent subgroup.

“We’re all trying to better understand this new subgroup category,” he said.

“It really is a continuation of that concern that all kids should be achieving in schools,” Biederwolf said.

Biederwolf said the district will take steps to close the achievement gap. They are already doing work and making changes, such as a uniform math program for kindergarten through sixth grade, which keeps all elementary students working on a dynamic and highly rated math program.

They had a highly successful summer school program. The schools have extended-day programs, as well.

Board members commented on the goals and the report cards during the meeting. Board President Brian Selburn said he hopes the district sets higher standards than working toward 85 percent student proficiency by 2022.

He considered how the parent of an incoming freshman might feel.

“I’m going to be horrified as that parent. … My student will probably be graduating college by 2022,” he said. “I hope we’re aiming higher than that.”

“I completely agree,” Kien said, adding that he doesn’t like goals that are anything less than 100 percent.

Biederwolf said there are some targets where they come out ahead already, and they do aim higher than the state goals.

“Everybody in the district understands that if all you’re doing is holding ground, you are losing ground,” he said. “Our data is up, but it’s not up enough.”