A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Three of Livingston County's five high schools scored poorly on the Mackinac Center's high school report card: Howell, Fowlerville and Pinckney high schools received D's. 

Howell High School's ranking was 27.7 percent — meaning that more than 70 percent of Michigan's other high schools did better. Fowlerville ranked in the bottom 22.3 percent, while Pinckney ranked the lowest in the county, at 21.2 percent.

The Mackinac Center's high school report card is different from other state assessments.  It takes into account student socioeconomic status — a well-known variable that impacts standardized test scores — when evaluating schools in order to more accurately measure what impact different schools have on academic performance.

Pinckney Superintendent Dan Danosky, when responding to the Livingston Daily Press & Argus’ report of these low high school scores, blamed student backgrounds.

From the Press & Argus:

Danosky said the report doesn’t take into account higher numbers of students on free or reduced lunch as a result of the economic downturn of the past several years.

This is utterly false. The purpose of the high school report card was to consider the proportion of students schools reported were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Moreover, the study included the four most recent years of student test score data (2008 through 2011) for Howell, Fowlerville and Pinckney – meaning that the data also squares with the recent economic downturn.

Danosky also alleges that the report card somehow favors charter schools. This, too, is completely inaccurate. Every school in the report card was treated the same way, regardless of whether it was a charter, conventional or selective admissions school. All schools were graded on whether they did better or worse than predicted, given their students’ backgrounds.

As the Press & Argus notes, the highest-performing school on the report card happened to be a charter public school, but this is not evidence that the report card was somehow skewed. Several charter schools did poorly on the report card: Dream Academy, Creative Technologies Academy and Bradford Academy all ranked in the bottom 3 percent statewide.

The bottom line for schools such as Howell, Fowlerville and Pinckney is that they are not, on average, doing as well as other schools serving student with similar socioeconomic backgrounds. Compared to other Michigan high schools, their students come from advantaged backgrounds, and it isn’t enough to coast on that boost.

Consider Cass City High School, for example. Its students scored an average of 20.75 on the ACT composite test, higher than Howell, Fowlerville and Pinckney. Yet more than half of its students qualified for free or reduce-priced lunches, a higher proportion than the three Livingston County schools. Based on these factors, Cass City earned a report card score of 110.1 (an “A”), placing it in the top 92 percent of Michigan high schools.

The Mackinac Center's high school report card has identified schools that have done very well despite student disadvantages. But the other part of the story is the number of schools that have done poorly despite enrolling larger portions of students from advantaged backgrounds. 

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Star International Academy is the highest ranked high school in Michigan on the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's Contest and Performance report card for both 2014 and 2012. The study and a database of every school in the state can be found at www.Mackinac.org/CAP.

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