Farmington Schools explains questionable AYP scores

By: David Wallace | Farmington Press | Published August 29, 2012

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FARMINGTON HILLS — The Michigan Department of Education recently released its annual Adequate Yearly Progress and EducationYES! School Report Cards, the results of which seemed to look discouraging for Farmington Public Schools. But looks can be deceiving, according to district officials.

On Aug. 3, families in the FPS district received letters in the mail to notify parents about the scores that schools in the district received on the statewide assessment. Based on standardized testing of at least 95 percent of students, schools are rated as either having made AYP or not. Schools make AYP when test results reflect target achievement goals in English language arts and mathematics, or reduce the percentage of students in the nonproficient category of achievement by 10 percent. Those institutions also need to meet or exceed other academic indictors set by the state, such as graduation and attendance rates. Schools that don’t make AYP for two or more consecutive years are placed on a consequences list.

The EducationYES! Report Cards are the school accreditation system under which letter grades are assigned for academic achievement and indicators of school performance to determine state accreditation of schools. The report cards are a compilation of Michigan Educational Assessment Program and Michigan Merit Exam test results, the MI-Access alternate assessments for students with disabilities, AYP designation, and various self-reported indicators, including family involvement in schools, curriculum, student attendance and professional development for teachers.

While the majority of Farmington Schools did make AYP, three high schools in the district did not. Harrison High School, North Farmington High School and Farmington Central High School did not meet AYP standards; only Farmington High School made AYP.

At the same time, no school in the district received a grade higher than a B on the EducationYES! Report Cards, with Harrison scoring lowest with a D.

Even more troubling, perhaps, was the fact that FPS saw 11 schools in the district named as Focus Schools — those that have wide achievement gaps between various student populations. Focus Schools are the 10 percent of schools with the widest achievement gaps and include some otherwise high-achieving schools that would normally not be expected to have low-achieving students. Schools can be ranked as Reward Schools if they’re overall high-achieving or Priority Schools if they’ve failed to meet AYP for multiple consecutive years. Schools can also be left unranked.

Harrison High School, East Middle School, O.E. Dunckel Middle School, Power Upper Elementary, Warner Upper Elementary, Beechview Elementary, Forest Elementary, Gill Elementary, Highmeadow Common Campus, Hillside Elementary and Wood Creek all were deemed Focus Schools.

According to Naomi Khalil, director of instructional equity for FPS, because the district receives Title I funding — financial assistance available to schools with high percentages of students from low-income families — the district is now forced to offer many families the opportunity to transfer their students to a non-Focus School that has made AYP. In some cases, as with students in fifth- and sixth-grade schools or seventh- and eighth-grade schools, no options are currently available within the district. FPS is partnering with the Clarenceville School District in Livonia for parents who would like to transfer to a non-Focus School that has made AYP.

Khalil said that the rankings are inherently flawed. According to her, the achievement gap that landed so many FPS schools on the Focus Schools list comes from the fact that many students in the district are exceptionally high-achieving, not because some students are grossly underperforming.

“The state has not revealed how they weighted those factors in the new ranking. There are 350 Focus Schools in the state, 81 of which are in Oakland County. With this methodology, there will always be Focus Schools in the state of Michigan. I don’t know of a single institution where there isn’t someone who isn’t at the very top and at the very bottom when it comes to achievement,” she said, noting Highmeadow Common Campus as an example. The school received a 98 percent proficiency rating on AYP, but was still named a Focus School because of the gap between the highest- and lowest-achieving students.

In addition to informing parents of the dismal scores via letter, the district hosted a forum Aug. 23 at the Ten Mile Annex to answer questions on the matter.

“I think anybody would be questioning it,” said Diane Bauman, director of school and community relations for FPS. “We wanted to make sure parents had the most information they could possibly have. It’s a very complicated process.”

According to Khalil, once the situation was explained to parents in person, many left the forum feeling better about it and how the district is handling it.

“Parents truly came out for understanding. Most of them were very reassured that they didn’t have to transfer and didn’t want to transfer. We’ve had a moderate amount of inquiries just to understand what it all means, and we’ve had less than 20 transfer requests,” she said, estimating that around 4,000 students are enrolled with FPS.

“(Since the deadline to transfer) is Aug. 30, we’re thinking we’re in pretty good shape. We get a sense that we’re meeting their concerns.”

The achievement gap ratings were instated as part of the federal No Child Left Behind law, aimed at schools gaining 100 percent proficiency by the year 2014. Khalil said FPS will continue to work to close achievement gaps, as she said the district has been doing over the past 10 years. But she insists the rankings are misleading, and the system should be revised by the state. She said that by the end of the forum Aug. 23, many parents left with a similar understanding.

“We are committed to providing equal education for all students, and will continue to do so. We will raise our lower-end students high while continuing to raise our high-achieving students to new heights.”

For more information and detailed results on individual schools, visit www.michigan.gov/mde.

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