Scores of scores

The new state school scoring index is here. See how Detroit schools stacked up.

A new 0-100 state scoring system appears to be a fairer measure of how schools are doing, but most of Detroit’s schools still ended up at the bottom of the list.

Unlike the old, statewide top-to-bottom list, which ranked schools based largely on the percentage of students who were able to pass annual state exams, this system measures schools on an index from 0-100 points based on seven weighted categories, with the heaviest weight given to growth.

It’s part of the Michigan Department of Education’s Parent Dashboard. The index was pitched as a more nuanced take on school scoring — a middle ground between giving schools a singular A-F grade and not scoring them at all.

The highest-rated high school in Detroit was Renaissance High School, with a 87.6. Cass Technical High School was close behind with a 81.17, and Detroit Edison Public School Academy – High School, a charter school near Detroit’s Eastern Market, was third with 66.08.

The highest-rated elementary and middle schools in Detroit were two charter schools — the Detroit Edison Public School Academy (DEPSA) with a 92.16 and Martin Luther King Jr. Education Center Academy with a 91.34. A selective district school, Bates Academy, came in third at 81.89.

The new system does not rank schools — some schools can receive the same scores. But DEPSA, Martin Luther King Education Center Academy and Renaissance were the only three schools in Detroit that were among the top quarter of Michigan schools.

The state said schools with an index score below 30.64 are identified as problem schools. About 15 percent of Detroit charters scored below that, while about half of Detroit district schools scored that low. Roughly 7 percent of charters scored above a 70 on the index, while about 5 percent of district schools did.

The vast majority of Detroit schools — both district and charters — scored poorly compared to schools statewide.

The weighted scores were divided into categories: 34 percent based on growth, 29 percent on academic proficiency, 14 percent on what schools offer and how well they are run, 10 percent on graduation rates, 10 percent on the performance of English Language Learners, and 3 percent based on how many students are tested.

The category that carries the most weight, growth, has been called a fairer approach to school scoring.

There are multiple ways to use test scores to measure a school. While the top-to-bottom list was based almost exclusively on proficiency — the percentage of students who demonstrated on tests that they are performing at grade level in reading and math — the new system gives significant weight to growth. Growth measures students’ improvement or decline on tests from one year to the next.

This matters more in lower-achieving districts like Detroit because children might start school farther behind, without having learned their numbers or the alphabet, says Sarah Lenhoff, a Wayne State University education researcher.

“Growth over time, and how much students are learning over the course of a year, it’s a more accurate indicator of school quality than just looking at straight achievement levels,” Lenhoff said.

“What you want to see is schools serving kids coming to schools behind, that they’re growing at a higher rate to catch them up,” she said.  

The new index was created to comply with new federal law in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which pushed states to create new school accountability plans.

The Michigan Department of Education “spent a lot of time collaborating with external stakeholders and getting feedback on student equity in developing this new system,” a state spokesman said.  

The index has a search bar to find specific schools and a colorful page with seven categories to quickly and easily find scores; however, there is no easy way to compare categories in different schools.

The top ten Detroit schools according to the new index:

  • Detroit Edison Public School Academy, charter, 92.16
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Education Center Academy, charter, 91.34
  • Renaissance High School, district, 87.6
  • Bates Academy, district, 81.89
  • Cass Technical High School, district, 81.17
  • Cesar Chavez Academy Elementary East, charter, 77.78
  • New Paradigm College Prep, charter, 75.41
  • Hope of Detroit Academy Elementary, charter, 74.41
  • Charles Wright School, district, 73.38
  • Bridge Academy West, charter, 70.92

Search through our table to compare different index scores for all schools in Michigan. 

more money fewer problems

Detroit teachers will finally get paid what they deserve if agreement holds up with district

Ally Duncan, an elementary school teacher in Lake County, works with students on sentence structure. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Good news for Detroit district teachers stuck at a low pay level: The finance committee of the school board Friday recommended an agreement with the city’s largest teachers union to raise pay for the first time in years.

“This is a major step for the district to fully recognize experience,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said. “A lot of the adult issues have been put aside to focus on children.”

The changes will be for members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, the city’s largest teachers union.

In the past, Detroit teachers have bargained for contracts that severely restrict the pay of newly hired teachers who could help alleviate the shortage. New teachers could only get credit for two years’ experience they accrued working in other school districts.

Vitti has said low pay in the Detroit district is the main reason it’s difficult to attract new teachers and keep the ones they have. And with fewer teachers, classroom sizes start to balloon.

Detroit currently has 190 teacher vacancies, down from 275 at this point last year.

The subcommittee also recommended giving a one-time bonus for teachers at the top of the salary scale to recognize outside experience for current and future teachers, and to repay the Termination Incentive Plan as soon as this September.

The incentive plan took $250 from teachers’ biweekly paycheck and held it to pay them when they left the district when emergency managers were in control, but the money was never given back to teachers, said Ivy Bailey, the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

Teachers who have paid into the incentive plan from the beginning will receive $9,000. The teachers union made a contract with the district last year that stipulated the money be paid by 2020, but the new agreement would move the payment to this September.

Finally, a bonus — $1,373.60 — for more than 2,000 teachers at the top of the pay scale would be paid in December.

Potentially, some teachers receiving bonuses and who are eligible for the incentive plan payment would receive in excess of $10,000,

“The bonus for teachers on the top is focused on ensuring that we retain our most veteran teachers as we work on an agreement in the third year to increase, once again, teachers at the top step so they can be made whole after emergency manager reductions,” Vitti said.  “We can do that once our enrollment settles or increases.”

In all, the district proposes to spend a combined $5.7 million to pay current and future teachers for how long they’ve worked, $3.2 million on bonuses for veteran teachers, and $22 million on the incentive plan.

“This is something none of us were expecting,” Bailey said. “This is good for everyone. We already ratified a contract, so this is just extra.”

It’s a tentative agreement between the district and the Detroit Federation of Teachers, Bailey said.

If an agreement is reached and the school board approves it, the changes would make a huge impact. It’s a major change for district teachers who have been stuck in a pay freeze and could draw new teachers into the district now that their experience may be recognized, allowing them to start at a higher salary.  

The two groups are still in talks to “iron out the details,” she said. Specifically, the federation wants to make sure that district employees like counselors, therapists and college support staff also receive higher salaries commensurate with experience.

Detroit's future

Despite top scores in quality standards, Michigan’s early education programs neglect English language learners

PHOTO: Jamie Cotten, Special to The Denver Post
Josiah Berg, 4, paints a picture at Mile High Montessori, one of more than 250 Denver preschools that are part of the Denver Preschool Program.

Michigan’s 4-year-olds receive some of the highest quality education and care available in the country — that is, if your child can speak English.

Michigan was one of only three states to meet all 10 quality benchmarks designed by a national advocacy organization that released its annual State of Preschool Report this week. However, the state met only one out of 10 benchmarks for English language learners.

Four-year-olds enrolled in privately funded programs are not included in this data.

Enrollment and state spending per pupil stayed largely constant from the same report last year. About 30 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled — some 38,371 children — while state spending was steady at $6,356 per pupil.

Compared to the rest of the country, Michigan ranks 16th out of 43 states and Washington, D.C., in enrollment for 4-year-olds and allocates about $1,000 more dollars on per pupil spending than the average state.

These findings come from the State of Preschool 2017 report published by the National Institute for Early Education Research, or NIEER, at Rutgers University.

Three states — Alabama, Michigan, and Rhode Island — met all 10 of the institute’s benchmarks for minimum state preschool quality standards. Benchmarks included things like student-to-teacher ratios, teacher training, and quality of curriculum.

But the only benchmark the state met for English learners is permitting bilingual instruction in the state-funded preschool program. Michigan did not meet benchmarks for assessing children in their home language, allocating more money for English learners, or making sure staff are trained in working with students learning English.

Authors of the new report say supporting English learners is important, especially early in life.

“For all children, the preschool years are a critical time for language development.” said Steve Barnett, senior co-director of the institute. “We know that dual-language learners are a group that makes the largest gains from attending high-quality preschool. At the same time, they’re at elevated risk for school failure.”

About a quarter of early education students nationwide are English learners. Michigan does not collect data on the number of early education students who are English learners, so it’s unclear how many students the low quality of instruction impacts.

Chalkbeat Colorado’s Ann Schimke contributed to this report.