Education scorecard given ‘F’ by local superintendents

MARQUETTE – The state’s school accountability scorecards were released earlier this month, rating local schools and school districts on a color-coded scale of excellence.

Ratings can be either green, lime, yellow, orange or red, with green being the best and red being the worst.

Most schools in Marquette County received a yellow rating, leaving local superintendents less than impressed with the system.

“It seems the different departments within the Department of Education aren’t collaborating on these things because they’re sending out mixed messages,” said NICE Superintendent Bryan DeAugustine, whose district earned an overall rating of yellow. “A school’s successes have a lot more to do with how our individual community members feel about how their students are being educated at that school.”

The new system was devised to replace goals that had been mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which required all students to be 100 percent proficient in all test subjects by this school year.

“When people see the yellow rating, they’re considering it average and we don’t feel that way at all,” said Negaunee Superintendent Dan Skewis, whose district also earned an overall rating of yellow. “We feel there’s a discrepancy in the way the rankings are given out.”

Most schools in local districts earned green ratings in every category – math, reading, social studies, writing, completion rate and attendance rate.

However, most districts received red rankings in two categories – bottom 30 percent and students with disabilities.

The bottom 30 percent category compares the difference in academic achievement levels between the top 30 percent of students in a district and the bottom 30 percent. The wider the gap, the worse the rating.

“The same issue that we have several, probably a majority of the districts throughout the state, have as well, we test very well, we receive a green rating in pretty much everything across the board,” Skewis said. “The one thing that gives us a lime or yellow at the building level is our bottom 30 percent.”

Skewis added his district would continue to work to close that gap.

Marquette schools earned an overall ranking of orange.

Superintendent Bill Saunders said the system didn’t seem to make much sense, adding one bad score had an artificially large effect on the rankings.

“I think like most other superintendents, it’s kind of tough to make heads or tails out of the report that they issue,” he said. “If I look at scores and percentages overall, we did make some strides in some areas and then you have this blip in the radar, when I look at it, it seems to skew our overall scores and status a little bit…

“It’s not easy to say anything other than the fact that when we look at this data, we are continually looking at improving our school system,” Saunders said.

That sentiment was echoed by Ishpeming Superintendent John Summerhill, whose district earned a yellow ranking.

“As you look at it, some people will balk at the rankings and the scores. I have a tendency to say it’s useful in some ways, and I think one year it’s down the next year it’s up,” Summerhill said. “Overall, I think everybody’s done a pretty good job. We’ve got a lot of new things happening and I think the future looks really, really strong.”

In the Gwinn district, which earned an overall rating of yellow, it wasn’t the color-coded ranking that worried the district’s board of education but the Top to Bottom ranking, which ranks Michigan schools against each other.

Gwinn Middle School, which earned green in all categories except for a red in attendance, was ranked yellow overall. However, in its Top to Bottom ranking, it was listed in the bottom fifth percentile.

Bill Nordeen, a trustee who sits on the Gwinn school board, said during the board’s most recent meeting the rankings were dismal and shocking, especially the middle school’s.

“We’re slowly sinking, we’re sinking,” Nordeen said. “First it was a financial thing, that we went from having a fund balance to no fund balance to borrowing money, and now it’s an educational thing. We have an educational problem. If the financial problem wasn’t enough to get our attention, this should certainly get our attention.”

Gwinn Superintendent Dru Milliron said with so many different factors going in to the rankings, it would take time to discern where the problems lie.

The district did receive some good news, however. Gwinn High School, which had been marked as a focus school last year, was removed from that list this year.

Focus schools are the 10 percent of schools in the Top To Bottom list with the largest achievement gaps between their top 30 percent and bottom 30 percent of students.

“Last year we were a focus school for our high school, and we still have our gap between our top 30 and bottom 30 and it’s narrowing a little bit, but because there are schools with a greater gap, we are not considered a focus school this year,” Milliron said. “So, the system is terrible. There has to be an easier system. Or one that’s not so confusing.”

North Star Academy was also removed from the focus school list, a move CEO/Superintendent Karen Anderson attributed to the hard work of students and staff throughout the year.

“We’re very proud of our student achievement and the hard work that our staff and students have done to earn our way off this focus school designation,” Anderson said.

That work will continue over the next few years, as the school must continue to show improvement to keep it off the focus school list.

Overall, North Star earned a ranking of red.

To get a look at the full reports, visit www.mischooldata.org/DistrictSchoolProfiles/ReportCard/AccountabilityScorecard/AccountabilityScorecard.aspx.