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120 Michigan Schools Get F's on First Report Card

More than 100 Michigan schools will have to come up with a major restructuring plan because they failed to meet federal testing benchmarks for five straight years, state education officials said.

That is among the main findings in the latest round of measurements to be released Friday as part of President Bush’s sweeping education reform, No Child Left Behind. The state will also release the long-awaited school report cards, which give letter grades to schools based on test scores and other factors, such as attendance rates.

For the estimated 120 schools that haven’t met the federal benchmarks on the Michigan Education Assessment Program test for five years, the consequences are severe.

Schools will have a year to choose one of five restructuring options: shut down and reopen as a charter school, replace all or most of the school’s staff, turn operations over to the state or an outside organization, or restructure the school’s governance.

If a school fails to meet the benchmarks for a sixth year, it must implement its plan. The state hasn’t worked out exact deadlines for when those plans would need to be put in place.

Many of the schools facing restructuring will likely be in the Metro Detroit area. Last year, at least 95 schools failed to meet the standards for four consecutive years, including 50 schools in Detroit and others in Hamtramck, Inkster, Pontiac, Romulus and Taylor.

“This is D-day,” said Helen Stanks, executive director of Learning Services at the Wayne Regional Educational Service Agency, the state’s largest intermediate school district. “They are saying the schools must be restructured in order to improve.”

For parents such as Janice Vujic, the latest results will allow them to better gauge how their schools are performing and push them to do better.

Vujic welcomes major changes at her daughter’s middle school, Hamtramck’s Kosciuszko, which could be one of the schools listed as failing for five years.

The 43-year-old assigns her daughter, Maria, extra homework every day because she fears she isn’t learning enough and thinks some personnel changes at the school are needed.

“A lot of them just don’t like what they do,” Vujic said. “Maybe they shouldn’t be there.”

High schools included

Even some schools with traditionally high MEAP scores will be flagged Friday for not meeting the benchmarks. Some could be high schools, which for the first time will be included in the release.

Plymouth-Canton Community Schools has two middle schools, East and Pioneer, that did well in the past but missed the standards this time around because one group of students, special education, didn’t score high enough on the MEAP.

No Child Left Behind requires schools to test every demographic group of kids if a school has more than 30 students from that group in its student body.

Dennis Budziszewski, whose eighth-grade daughter, Elissa, attends East Middle School, already heard East hadn’t met the benchmarks, and he was initially disappointed.

But as a parent volunteer who helps kids with limited English skills with reading twice a week, he thinks East is “headed in the right direction.”

“I think we’ve focused in on what the problem is, and we’re trying to deal with it,” Budziszewski, 55, said.

Law debated

No Child Left Behind was enacted by Congress two years ago to boost school performance and accountability. Critics say it’s an unfunded mandate that places unrealistic expectations on schools. Supporters argue that the law will work and that it’s just going through growing pains.

Under the law, standards will gradually increase every three years until schools are 100 percent proficient on math and reading tests by 2014. At this point, a school is considered proficient if 38 percent of elementary students pass reading and 47 percent pass math. At the middle school level it is 31 percent in reading and 31 percent in math. Schools falling short of those targets have failed to meet the benchmarks, according to the law.

Even though the law is only 2 years old, schools can be labeled as failing for three or more years because Michigan and about a dozen other states began tracking achievement when the federal government first required them to in 1997. Other states did not collect the data.

After No Child Left Behind was implemented in 2001, the federal government decided Michigan and the other states that complied should use the past scores when measuring schools, given they already had the data compiled.

Educators argue Michigan is being penalized because it followed the law from the start.

“It’s one of those things that no good deed goes unpunished,” said Gayle Green, chief academic officer for the Macomb Intermediate School District.

Successful appeals

Last year, the state announced that almost 760 elementary and middle schools statewide were failing to meet the federal standards. But many schools had successful appeals over the last year, though state officials weren’t able to give a final number on how many schools missed the benchmarks.

“There are some schools that have challenges, be it school structure or community, socioeconomic (factors),” said Martin Ackley, spokesman for the state Department of Education. “There are just some schools that are struggling.”

Officials in the Macomb and Oakland intermediate school districts wouldn’t comment on how many schools in their counties met the benchmarks because many schools are still appealing the newest results.

“There is too much in the air right now,” said Ernie Bauer, a consultant for the Oakland County Intermediate School District.

Many of those appeals haven’t been completed yet, including some in Detroit schools, because school officials were late in supplying data, Ackley said. More than 1,200 schools have already filed appeals on grades they say are wrong. Dearborn school officials publicly criticized the state Wednesday for releasing “misleading” information.

Southfield appealed results for seven of its schools that the state initially said failed to meet the federal standards. Ken Siver, district spokesman, said the whole release has been a “roller coaster ride” with the state going back and forth several times on whether schools met the standards.

“It’s just been an incredible mess,” Siver said.

Hamtramck braces

While parents and educators sift through the latest results, two Hamtramck schools are bracing for major changes. The state likely will list Kosciuszko, and one of Hamtramck’s two elementaries, Dickinson West, as failing for a fifth year and needing restructuring.

“It is extremely serious,” said Camille Colatosti, Hamtramck’s school board president. “A whole generation of children have experienced failing schools. ... We are shirking our responsibility in educating our children.”

Hamtramck has worked with the county’s intermediate school district for the past three years to come up with a school improvement plan. Most recently, they’ve added extra reading classes. And they are analyzing test scores to figure out where students need the most help.

Testing showed that at Kosciuszko, almost 600 of the school’s 900 kids are reading at least two grades below the level they should be. Principal Tom Trawick doesn’t think the state should measure Hamtramck the same way it does other less diverse schools.

The city is home to large populations of immigrants. Almost 70 percent of students at Kosciuszko are learning English as a second language and more than 21 languages are spoken at the middle school.

“Some of these kids haven’t been to school ever,” said Trawick, who has been principal for about eight years. “We are busting our butts. We’ve done everything we are supposed to do.”

You can reach Maureen Feighan at (313)222-2690 or mfeighan@detnews.com.


The penalties

If a school receiving federal money fails to meet the education standards, sanctions will be imposed:

After failing to meet standards for two consecutive years, officials must develop a two-year plan to turn around the school. Students must be offered the option of transferring to another public school in the district that meets the federal requirements.

After three consecutive years, students from low-income families become eligible to receive services, such as tutoring or remedial classes.

After four years, the district must consider options such as replacing staff or implementing a new curriculum.

After five years, the district must start to restructure the school. This may include reopening the school as a charter, replacing all or most of the school staff or turning over school operations either to the state or to a private company. The school has a year to come up with a plan. If it fails for a sixth year, it will be forced to implement it.

What schools are graded on

For the first time, Michigan will release report cards grading individual schools based on test results and a number of other factors, including parental involvement. Later this year, school districts also will be required to issue their own local report card. The state report cards will include:

Proficiency rates on the Michigan Education Assessment Program or MEAP test.

A grade based on 11 "indicators of school performance," including curriculum alignment, attendance rates, school facilities, family involvement and advanced coursework.

A grade based on MEAP improvement.

Performance information on whether the individual school met federal testing benchmarks under No Child Left Behind called "adequate yearly progress."

Performance information on whether each demographic group at the individual school met the testing benchmarks under the federal education law.

An overall grade based on MEAP scores, MEAP improvement, adequate yearly progress and indicators of school performance.

The local report cards, previously called annual reports, will include:

MEAP scores based on proficiency level.

MEAP scores broken down by race, ethnicity, gender, disability status, migrant status, English proficiency and economically disadvantaged status.

Graduation and attendance rates.

Number and names of schools that didn't meet federal benchmarks under No Child Left Behind Act.

A comparison between local student achievement and state objectives on MEAP tests.

Number of students enrolled in post-secondary programs or college-level courses.

Information on professional qualifications of teachers.

Information on parent-teacher conference attendance rates.

Note: Local report cards likely will be released by each district sometime this spring.

Informing parents:

Districts are required to make the report cards available to parents.

Local school districts must notify parents if their child's school has been identified as needing improvement, corrective action or restructuring. In this event, districts must let parents know the options available to them.

Districts must annually notify parents of students in schools receiving federal money of their "right to know" about teacher qualifications and how to exercise it.

Source: U.S. Department of Education

— Maureen Feighan and Christine MacDonald
120 Michigan schools get F's on first report card
Detroit News


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