News Story

Flawed State Rankings Mean Some Principals Are Out of a Job

Adjusting Michigan's 'top-to-bottom' list to socioeconomic status yields different results

Every school in Michigan is ranked on the state's “Top-to-Bottom” list, which is used by parents, policymakers and the media. If a school scores low enough, the state can force the principal to be removed.

But what if the rankings, which are based on student proficiency (50 percent of a school’s grade), student growth (25 percent) and achievement gap (25 percent), are flawed?

When evaluating schools, the consensus among education analysts is that a lot of a student’s performance tracks with socioeconomic status. While the state report card gives points for student growth, this may not be enough to make up for where students start out academically.

To better measure schools, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy has come out with a “Context and Performance” report card, which adjusts for a student’s family income. Audrey Spalding, director of education policy at the Center, said that this is a better measure.

"Schools throughout the state serve a variety of communities," Spalding said. "It simply isn't accurate to pretend that student family background doesn't have an impact in the classroom. Schools should not be penalized for taking in disadvantaged students."

The state’s report card has some real world outcomes.

In Jackson Public Schools, a principal was removed earlier this year because Parkside Middle Schools was placed among the lowest 4 percent of schools in the state. However, when adjusting for socioeconomic status, the Mackinac Center report card gives Parkside a “C,” which is in the middle of the pack.

Jackson Public Schools Superintendent Dan Evans said he did not want to remove the principal.

“He had a ton of parents fighting for him trying to contact the state,” Evans said. “The parent group was very frustrated. He’s getting his Ph.D. and he was very much on top of things. I wanted to keep him in there. We waited until the last minute until the state guidelines said we had to change.”

Evans said he disagrees with the state rankings because they are “not comparing apples to apples.”

“I would venture to say that our bottom 30 percent [is different] than say Okemos or Forest Hills,” he said.

In some cases, the state list has placed some of the top-ranked schools near the bottom.

"While there are numerous factors that can be used to determine school performance, all students should expect and receive a high quality education regardless of family income," said Jan Ellis, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Education.

Spalding said it is important to measure student performance, but it must be done comprehensively.

"You aren't telling the whole story if you don't consider student background," she said.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.