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With test results in, St. Clair Shores schools focus on improving student outcomes

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published September 13, 2019

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — St. Clair Shores schools have a wide range of achievement scores, according to the latest test results released by the Michigan Department of Education just before the start of the 2019-20 school year.

Scores from the spring 2019 M-STEP, SAT and the new PSAT tests given to students at various levels in public schools across the state showed modest improvement in some subjects, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

Third- and fourth-grade English language arts scores on the 2019 Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, or M-STEP, showed modest gains for the second straight year, the department reported. In addition, sixth-grade ELA scores increased across the state, as did math scores for third-, fifth- and sixth-grade students.

Locally, students in South Lake Schools scored below state and county averages in all grades and subjects; students in Lake Shore Public Schools scored at or close to state and county averages in most grades and subjects; and students in Lakeview Public Schools scored above state and county averages in all grades and subjects.

Rachelle Wynkoop, assistant superintendent of academic and student services in Lake Shore Public Schools, said that one set of numbers doesn’t tell the whole story.

“We remain around or just above the state and county average even as our economically disadvantaged percentage (of students) has increased,” she said. “One of the greatest concerns, in looking at these numbers, is the places where the state is holding us accountable for our at-risk students.”

She explained that each district gets a grant from the state to use for at-risk students, who may be economically disadvantaged, homeless, pregnant, have incarcerated parents, or have consistent academic challenges. This is the first year that, if districts don’t meet benchmarks for their at-risk students, the state will require a reallocation of the funds.

“For our at-risk students, eighth-grade students, we need to meet the threshold of 50% proficiency in math in order for us to not have to reallocate funds. The state average is not 50% proficient in math at any level,” Wynkoop said. “Our at-risk students need to perform at a level that’s not expected of our overall general education (population) or we will be designated as not meeting the needs of our at-risk population.”

In Lake Shore, 35.7% of eighth-grade students were proficient or partially proficient in math, compared with 41.4% statewide and 40.8% across Macomb County. South Lake Schools had 14.5% of eighth graders at the same level and Lakeview had 59.2% of eighth graders at the same level.

In 2016, the Michigan Legislature passed a law that requires schools to identify learners who are struggling with reading and writing and to provide additional help. The law states that third graders may repeat third grade if they are more than one grade level behind beginning with the 2019-2020 school year, but Wynkoop said that is not solely based on M-STEP scores.

There is a different scale used by the Michigan Department of Education to determine which third graders are more than a year behind grade level.

“While our overall proficiency has remained about the same, we are at the top of the county for students who are on track for reading proficiency. We have a really high percentage of partially proficient (students),” she said.

Based on 2018 scores, Wynkoop said that only two students in the district would have been eligible to be retained in third grade, compared with the fact that 43.1% of the district’s third graders meet or exceed expectations in ELA on the M-STEP. In South Lake, 38.9% of third graders met the proficiency benchmark, and 51.6% of Lakeview third graders did so. Across the state, proficiency levels were at 45.1%, and in Macomb County, 43.6% were proficient.

“Our large numbers of partially proficient represent significant growth of our students. They just haven’t grown to proficiency,” she said. “We really are concentrating on the growth of our students and believing that they will eventually get to proficiency, but they are growing at different levels than the state formulas.”

Wynkoop said that the district doesn’t “overemphasize those test scores” with students.

“We look at it as (a) one shot in time reflection of student learning and where they’re at,” she said. “We compare year to year, but we are not comparing the same students.”

South Lake Schools Director of Instruction and Assessment John Thero agreed that the tests are just “one measure of a child’s academic progress.”

The M-STEP is just one assessment the district, like most public school districts, uses to monitor student learning, he explained in an email interview. South Lake also uses the NWEA MAP assessment for students in elementary and middle schools.

“Using all of these measures gives us the information necessary to provide focused interventions for students and helps us identify areas of curriculum and instruction in need of improvement,” Thero said.

South Lake’s elementary students improved on ELA tests, he said, but they will be focusing on their math instruction in an effort to see improvement.

“The professional educators at each school continually monitor student achievement with classroom, school and district measurements,” he added.

Lakeview Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Tracy Van Peeren said that targeting instruction at student levels helps those who need support along with those who are advanced.

“Our school of choice is coming in reflective of what the demographics are in their building. We’re getting at-risk, we’re getting special education, we’re getting bilingual students from the other districts as well,” Van Peeren said. “Test scores, I won’t say they don’t matter because they obviously do, but they aren’t the only measure of your success.”

She said they work hard to close the achievement gap for students who are not performing at grade level.

“Here’s where kids are. We’re going to do focused instruction, and then we’re going to raise their scores up,” she said. “You will get kids that are eventually meeting the mark.”

It’s important that the district’s teachers also get the training and support they need to help students achieve, she said.

“We put a lot of our time, our money, resources into training teachers. Really getting down, diving deep into instructional practices that make a difference with kids,” she said. “Part of our strategic plans ... really creates what is going to be our focus, and then we put all of our resources into that. What does the data say our weak areas are, and that’s where we’re focusing.”

While the district has an SAT mean score of 994.1 and 31.8% of students meeting college readiness standards, Van Peeren said she wishes the state released more data about the number of students succeeding in career and technical programs.

“We have kids who are going into trade programs and are doing some of the colleges and apprenticeships that are actually getting them real-life skills and employment that is, oftentimes, paying more money than college-degree jobs,” Van Peeren said. “That is still an important area and I wish that we were reporting out on that, as a state, more.

“When we only focus on the college and career readiness, it sends, sometimes, an unintended message to kids and parents that those courses aren’t equally important.”

In Lake Shore, the mean SAT score was 985 and 25.8% met college readiness benchmarks. The mean SAT score in South Lake was 887.1, with 14.5% meeting college readiness benchmarks. Across the state, the mean SAT score was 985, with 33.9% meeting college readiness benchmarks. The mean score in Macomb County was 975.1, and 32.1% met college readiness benchmarks.

Van Peeren said that, of course, Lakeview Public Schools administration and staff think the scores are good, being consistently above state and county averages.

Nevertheless, she said, “We continue to want all of those numbers to be higher,” and, she added, the overarching goal is to make sure that students are “prepared for post-secondary (education) and life beyond Lakeview.”

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