Posted on December 1, 2004

More Mich. High Schools Fail

Christine MacDonald, The Detroit News, November 5, 2004

More Michigan high schools are failing federal achievement standards and graduation rate requirements than last year, despite districts’ efforts to improve student performance.

On tests taken last spring, 436 high schools — 47 percent statewide — didn’t score high enough on state tests, test enough kids or graduate enough seniors to meet standards under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to 2004 School Report Cards released Thursday. That’s up from 33 percent in 2003.

While many high schools missed the mark on Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests, others, including those in some of Metro Detroit’s high-performing districts such as South Lyon, Utica and Dearborn, failed because fewer than 95 percent of students took the tests or because a small group of students performed poorly. In Detroit, all of its 41 high schools failed the federal standards.

The marks suggest that the state’s schools are falling further behind escalating demands of the federal standards, which puts schools with the poorest students at risk of losing education funding.

Part of the reason more schools failed is because more were included on report cards this year, thus more are being caught by the federal rules, which include requiring all students to perform well regardless of race, economic status or disability. Others said the three years of education funding cuts and the struggling economy may be affecting schools and their students’ performance.

“This is where the (rules work against) large-enrollment schools like Eisenhower (High School),” said Hildy Corbett, spokeswoman for Utica Community Schools. “If you have 30 students in any one subgroup, their scores are pulled out and reported separately.”

Eisenhower, located in a generally high-income area of northern Shelby Township, failed to meet the standards for the second consecutive year because not enough of its special education students earned passing scores on state tests, Corbett said.

State schools Superintendent Tom Watkins said there are no excuses for the showing.

“We need to get more kids up and over the bar,” Watkins said. “It’s a wake-up call for our state and community.”

Gov. Jennifer Granholm said the results were “unacceptable.”

This school year will be a bigger challenge as the federal standards for testing rise.

For example, high schools now must have 44 percent of their students proficient in math when students take the test, compared to 33 percent.

The goal of No Child Left Behind is to close the achievement gap by gradually raising benchmarks until 2014 when all students must be proficient in math and reading. Schools that receive federal money and fail to meet the standards face penalities including having to provide tutoring.

Many experts hesitated to make strong conclusions from the data but said because this year’s scores on MEAP tests stayed steady, the increase in failing schools isn’t because students are doing worse.

“More folks are being caught by the rules rather than performance decline,” said David Plank, co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University.

Schools can make adequate yearly progress even if they don’t hit federal goals as long as they show enough improvement. Plank said more may be failing because those schools weren’t able to keep up the gains in this year’s release.

Graduation requirements snagged 89 schools that failed to graduate 80 percent of their students. Last year, 17 didn’t meet the requirement.

State officials said it could be because more schools were evaluated for the first time — including alternative schools with lower graduation rates.

Adding those schools increased the overall number of failing schools. But even after taking those out, 33 percent of schools failed last year compared to 38 percent this year, state figures show.

Watkins suggested Michigan’s poor economy may have played a role. “When you have struggling families, you have struggling communities and you have struggling schools,” he said.

Several school officials said they were still sorting through the data, including those in Detroit and Southfield, whose Southfield High School failed for the second consecutive year because not enough poor, black and disabled kids met standards.

For the first time, about 80 high schools statewide could face penalties because they have failed for two years. Only schools that receive federal Title I money for poor children can be penalized. The state wasn’t able to say Thursday how many of the 80 schools are Title I schools.

In Livonia, Franklin and Churchill high schools failed because small subgroups of special education students did not meet the academic standards in math and reading. Yet, the Livonia high schools met an overwhelming number of academic standards.

“It is frustrating that schools are labeled as not making adequate yearly progress, when nearly every academic measurement is met,” Livonia’s Superintendent Randy Liepa said. “In some instances, there could be as few as 30 students out of almost 2,000 that the criteria focuses on.”

Dearborn school officials plan to appeal the scores for Edsel Ford and Fordson high schools. At Edsel Ford, all students failed to make progress in both math and English. Fordson made progress in math, but failed to meet the benchmark for English.

Shareen Arras, coordinator of assessment and evaluation for the district, blamed the scores at Edsel Fordson on “major inaccuracies” in the data. The district plans to appeal.

But Dearborn parent Yasser Massem, whose son Ramsay is slated to start ninth grade at Fordson next year, has major concerns about the school.

“This is a real concern for me, to the point where I would seriously consider whether Fordson is the right high school for my son,” Massem said.

South Lyon High School failed this year because not enough kids took the test — 85.9 percent of students tested, instead of the 95 percent required.

Assistant Superintendent Jean Schmeichel said the reason was that “we had students and parents who decided the MEAP isn’t worth the students’ time.”

The Troy school district improved this year after experiencing the same attendance problem last year. Athens High School only had 87.8 percent of students take the tests in 2003, and Troy High School only had 94 percent of students. This year, both high schools met the 95 percent requirement.

Galal Matta of Troy has a 17-year-old son at Troy High School. Philip received all A’s on his last report card.

“I think it’s important that all students required to take the tests should take them. I encourage my kids when there is any competition because that’s what life is all about. Sometimes, I even push them, but not too much.” He added, “Plus, when you do well on your tests, it helps with college tuition.”

In addition to the federal standards, more schools received passing grades from the state. This year, 625 schools received a C or better, compared to 507 last year. But some of that improvement can be attributed to changes the state made to relax the grading system.