News Story

Is This School One of the Best in Michigan or One of the Worst?

New report card shows the differences in how schools are measured

If you ask the Michigan Department of Education, Covert High School is not a good school. On the state report card from a few years ago, the school ranked in the bottom 26th percentile.

But on a new report card, the school 40 miles west of Kalamazoo is the No. 1 ranked conventional public high school in Michigan.

The reason why requires understanding the state’s report card and those done by other groups.

In Michigan, schools are ranked based on the state’s Top-to-Bottom list, which grade administrators and schools based 50 percent on overall test scores, 25 percent on the achievement gap (the spread between high and low performing students) and only 25 percent on academic improvement. Besides emphasizing overall scores more than student growth, these rankings are also viewed by many as flawed because they do not account for student socioeconomic status – a key indicator of student achievement according to experts.

To correct for these problems, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy has developed a “Context and Performance” (CAP) report card that takes high school MME and ACT scores and adjusts for student poverty level. When that happens, Covert moves from near the bottom to the very top.

According to the latest CAP report, released today, the study “uses regression analysis to predict how well each school would perform given the socioeconomic makeup of their students. Schools are then ranked by how well they actually did relative to their predicted performance.” The schools are then given a letter grade.

Audrey Spalding is the director of education policy at the Center and wrote the report. She said not adjusting for the socioeconomic status of students means the state is unfairly judging teachers and schools.

"It's important to recognize that schools that open in needy areas take on additional challenges that other schools in more affluent areas don't face,” Spalding said. “By taking into account student background, we can get a better sense of whether a school is posting better or worse outcomes than expected, given its student population."

Covert Superintendent Bobbi Morehead said much of the success at Covert can be attributed to using Northwest Evaluation Associaton (NWEA) testing several times throughout the year so the school can have a better knowledge of what individual students are learning and need to work on.

“We pay constant attention to student data,” Morehead said. “Based on that ongoing data, we can make adjustments on the spot to help our students – not just for students who are struggling, but for everyone in order to push them to a higher level.”

The elementary school, middle school and high school all score well on the Mackinac Center report card. Covert Elementary – which is ranked in the 61st percentile by the state – received an A. Covert Middle – which the state puts in the 24th percentile – got a B. On the CAP report card from two years ago, the high school also received an A.

The district as a whole serves students in which 96 percent are eligible for free and reduced lunch, and 91 percent are racial minorities – 42 percent black, 41 percent Hispanic and 8 percent other non-white.

Morehead believes all students can succeed regardless of socioeconomic status.

“We definitely don’t use demographics as an excuse,” she said. “It plays a role in student achievement, but when you don’t use it as an excuse but believe your students are bright and capable and can achieve, then you can see powerful results.”

Morehead believes the state tests should be changed.

“I think we should focus more on measuring progress,” she said. “Take a look at where students are and hold people accountable for the progress they make.”

She said she understands the purpose of testing, but also believes measuring the “soft skills” is important. Problem-solving, persistence and resilience – while harder to measure – are also important.

The Mackinac Center CAP study can be read here. A database based on the report card is also being updated. Those results can be seen here.

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.