Setting Achievement Bars

With the end of the school year comes time for district and school staff to determine how well students have learned.  School Boards do this also.  If you want to measure student achievement at higher levels, one way is to look at how your state sets its achievement bar on the state tests your students take.  By law, the state tests must measure what it is the state determined that students will learn.  I know, I know – that is a novel concept.  But let me share with you what we’ve learned and how that impacts student achievement in your school, district, and state.

I’ll use an example from Michigan here.  Michigan gives its state test in the fall of each year.  One of the things the state determines is what constitutes proficiency for each test – in other words, how many questions a student must answer correctly in order for a student to be considered proficient.  In 7th grade, a student has to answer only 34% of the questions correct in order to be deemed proficient.  Do you think that’s a problem?  I certainly do.  If we have students who we report as proficient when they are performing well on only about one-third of the test, how are we preparing them for high school?  For college?  For work?

Look at the graph on the left.  The blue line on the graph shows the percentage of questions a student must answer correctly in order to be proficient in mathematics on the MEAP test for grades 3-8.  The bar is set lower than most would like.  (I have yet to talk with an educator in Michigan who thinks the bar is just right or too low.)  This can be an issue in terms of school improvement because we can have 90% of our students proficient, but if the bar is so low, what does that really mean the students know?  Are they really showing proficiency?

District staff, building-level staff, and school board members can step up to the plate here and raise the bar.  How do you do that?  In addition to keeping a check on the percentage of students who are proficient on the MEAP test by the state’s standards, you can raise the bar and add another measurement that reflects your own higher standards.  The red line represents a bar in which a district says that to show success on the MEAP test, students must answer 75% or more of the questions correct.

So consider raising the bar and expecting more from the students for whom you are responsible.

Fix That Graph – Sources of Revenue

Here’s the scenario.  A local school district has just released its proposed budget for the upcoming two-year period.  Within the 157 page budget document are two pie charts – one for revenues and one for expenditures.  The graphic on the left is the actual pie chart for revenues.

Take a look at the graph and see what you think.  What has been done well?  What would you recommend tweaking?

Of course I have my suggestions – just click here to download my analysis for this pie chart.  The last page of this handout even shows an example of how the finished product might look in a budget document.

Graduation Rates Improve in Suffolk Public Schools

In Suffolk, our district staff are working hard to improve graduation and dropout rates.  Of course the idea is to help ensure that more students are successful in school.  And that’s where I sometimes get a bit bothered by the direction our district takes.

So let’s take a look at a couple of things including the article in today’s Suffolk News Herald, that sparked this post.  First, is that the improved graduation rate puts Suffolk Public Schools in the “middle of the pack” in our Hampton Roads area.  Certainly a better standing than last year, but not yet good enough to help lure significant new business and economy to our area.  Second, while the percentage has improved from 72 percent of students earning some type of diploma in 2008 to 77.8 percent in 2009 (a difference of 5.2 percentage points) we still have over 21 percent of our students who are not earning a diploma within four years.

In Suffolk, the graduation issue is mostly addressed as a high school issue.  If we truly want to help more students graduate, we’ve got to start much earlier than that.  Parents are a child’s first teacher and we’ve got to start there.  Then we’ve got to stay with students from the first day of school until their last.  We need to continue to fully focus on students through elementary and middle schools so our high-school teachers aren’t expected to catch up a quarter of our students.   If we wait to deal with the issues when students get to high school, we’re already too late.