Priority schools see gains, but still below national averages

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published April 4, 2016

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EASTPOINTE — The four buildings in East Detroit Public Schools that the state designated as “priority schools” — schools among the lowest-performing in Michigan — are all seeing improvements in academics and disciplinary procedures, according to presentations at the district’s Board of Education meeting March 28.

The schools still fall short of national academic averages, though they each saw gains above expectations through the first half of the school year.

East Detroit High School interim Principal Greg Roberts noted in his presentation that 81 percent of all 11th-grade students were ranked as proficient in the English language arts “instructional learning cycle” targets. Of the 81 percent, 37 percent ranked as advanced and 44 percent ranked as proficient. He said 12 percent were ranked at a basic level, another 6 percent were below basic level and 1 percent were far below basic level.

The NWEA reading growth targets for ninth, 10th and 11th grades are 221, 221 and 222, respectively. As it stands, East Detroit High School ninth-graders have improved from 200.7 to 208.4 since winter 2015, and 10th-graders have improved from 205.9 to 211.7 in that same time frame. The 11th-graders improved from 212.4 to 215.2.

“We exceeded our projected growth (in ninth and 10th grades), but we’re still behind what would be considered proficient,” Roberts said. “We’re going to push our kids to get there.”

There is no projected growth for 11th-grade reading, as not enough students nationally were tested to get a baseline, Roberts said.

Math growth was strong in all three grade levels, but the high school started off further behind the national average. With targets of 232, 231.4 and 234.2, respectively, the ninth grade came in at 213.2, the 10th grade at 217.3, and the 11th grade at 224.8.

Looking ahead, Roberts said the high school plans on focusing on the Khan Academy — a nonprofit education organization — for SAT test-taking strategies, along with individualized curriculum for math students. With reading, he said the school will continue to work on corrective reading and comprehension measures to help students get up to speed.

At Kelly Middle School, teacher Stephanie Morang said students are given an NWEA screener before they begin classes to find out what their reading levels are so that they can be appropriately placed and helped.

“We’ve tested and placed 230 new students to date,” she said.

Like at East Detroit High School, students are improving their test scores faster than the projections, but the school still remains behind the national average. The school is going to start looking at tiered math instruction — basing lessons for students on their current math skills — in the second half of this school year.

Additionally, Morang said Kelly Middle School is trying to reward students for good behavior, providing them with tickets to school events, along with classroom and individual awards. With that said, while detention rates have dropped over the past two years, in-school suspension and out-of-school suspension rates are higher this year than before; there have been 287 out-of-school suspensions this year versus 232 last year, and in-school suspensions have increased from 28 to 132.

On the elementary level, most of Bellview and Pleasantview’s students saw reading improvements above projections, save for Pleasantview’s fourth-graders and Bellview’s third-graders for the fall and winter periods. For math in the same period, classes either came in slightly above or below projections.

Office referrals in both districts have plummeted from highs in the 2012-13 school year. In Pleasantview, there were 398 office referrals that school year; so far this year, there have been only 47. At Bellview, those numbers dropped from 1,210 to 170.

Lincoln Stocks, president of the East Detroit Federation of Teachers union, said the kind of growth that students and staff were able to see in the first half of the school year was impressive. He called it a “testament” to the hard work everyone has been doing.

“Ultimately, we’re dealing with a community left behind by so many aspects of our society, and that the people putting in the work here … are doing great work,” Stocks said. “I want the state and community watching this to come and see these things in person — that there’s significant turnaround. We can turn our district around, we can turn our schools around, and we are turning our schools around, and we will continue to turn our schools and district around.”

Board Secretary Karren MacKool said that while the district has a “ways to go,” the progress she has seen since last year can be measured in leaps and bounds.

All four schools are to be placed under the academic management of a state-appointed CEO before the next school year begins. The CEO’s job will be to improve student growth to close in on the national average.

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