Thursday, April 3, 2014

Michigan students falling behind nationally; what can be done?

Michigan is falling behind other states in terms of student achievement in public schools and needs to take a number of steps to improve, according to a new study.

 “Compared to the rest of the country, Michigan’s relative
rank on the national assessment has fallen since 2003 in
fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading, and our state
is below the national average in all subjects, for almost all
subgroups,” says the study conducted by the Royal Oak-based Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan policy and advocacy group.

As an example, the ETM study says Michigan fourth-graders rank in the bottom five states for improvement in both math and reading over the last
decade. Michigan is one of only six states in the nation that
saw a decline in average scale score in fourth-grade reading
between 2003 and 2013, the study says.

 “Our most vulnerable low-income students are not being
served by Michigan’s schools. The steady gains low-income
Michigan students saw in the past decade fell flat in 2013,
and our achievement gaps remain wide.”

But it’s not just low-income students who are struggling, the ETM study says.  Higher-income students have also fallen in relative rank
since 2003, according to new national assessment data.

”Ten years ago, Michigan’s higher-income students
ranked above the national public average in fourth-grade
reading and math and eighth-grade reading. Now they
rank 38th in fourth-grade reading, 32nd in fourth-grade
math, and 31st in eighth-grade reading compared to their counterparts in other states.”

Sarah Lenhoff,  director of policy and research for ETM, said there are  a number of things Michigan can do to reverse the trends and that a broad consensus is emerging among school officials, advocacy groups and policy makers interested in taking the necessary steps.

The principal focuses need to be on aligning student tests to new standards the state has adopted and training educators to teach the new standards, Lenhoff says.

Unlike many other advocacy groups,  ETM is not calling for massive new state government spending to improve schools.

“Targeted, strategic investment is what we recommend,” Lenhoff says.

She notes that Gov. Rick Snyder has recommended $28 million to be spent on a new teacher training and evaluation system, and he also has included $7.5 million for technology to implement new Common Core academic standards. The legislature needs to approve this spending, Lenhoff says.

The ETM study points to Massachusetts and Tennessee as states that Michigan ought to emulate in terms of improving its education. Massachusetts  probably has thee best schools in the nation, while Tennessee is showing the fastest rate of improvement, Lenhoff says.

“Once lower-achieving than Michigan, Tennessee is now
outperforming our state on the national assessment,” the ETM study says.

 “In 2003, Tennessee’s average score in fourth-grade math was eight
points lower than Michigan’s, and the state ranked 43rd in the
country — well below Michigan’s ranking of 27th. Ten years
later, Tennessee had gained 12 points compared to Michigan’s
one-point gain, and the state ranked 37th compared to
Michigan’s 42nd on the 2013 national assessment.”

The study said methods Tennessee has used to improve include better teacher training, a data dashboard to help educators evaluate test results and identify targets for improvement, and an early-warning  system  enabling educators to see real-time indicators of at-risk student progress.

Among other things, the study notes Massachusetts’ successful use of charter schools to augment achievement.

“Massachusetts is the  gold standard for chartering,” Lenhoff says. But the state has high standards for such schools, require previous experience for those seeking to operate schools in low-performing districts.

In 2011 in Michigan, by contrast,  “lawmakers lifted the cap on
charter expansion without requiring that new charter schools
meet performance standards – or demonstrate success before
replicating failed schools. Attempts to establish quality
standards have been foiled in Lansing. The state should hold all
charter schools, operators, and authorizers accountable for the
performance of their student,” the ETM study says.

Lenhoff says many of Michigan’ intermediate school districts are implementing successful teacher training programs, but a survey of principals done by ETM for the study that while they felt the state Department of Education could be helpful, it lacks the capacity.

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