State ranks Edsel Ford among bottom 5% in state

By BOB OLIVER
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Edsel Ford High School made improvements in its Michigan Merit Exam results from 2012 to 2013, but the state has still ranked it as a Priority School. The list was released by the Michigan Department of Education on Aug. 20.

A Priority School is one that ranks in the bottom 5 percent of the state in terms of academic achievement. The MDE takes a school’s MME achievement, improvement and achievement gap as well as graduation rate and improvement and determines a percentile rank for the school.

EFHS’s ranking dropped from 79.1 in 2010 to 0 in 2013. It scored lowest in science and reading.

Dearborn Public Schools Supt. Brian Whiston said that even though the school improved its scores in four of the five tested categories in one year, it has lower scores than it did in 2010 in reading, science and social studies. He added that the gains made by the school were not sufficient to make up for the substantial declines from 2010 to 2013.

“The state is looking at the last four years for the school,” Whiston said. “In those four years, the state is saying that the school did not get the growth in student achievement and graduation rates that they should have.”

Because EFHS is a Priority School, the district had to decide to implement one of four reform/redesign models the state requires. The choices were transformation (replace the principal), turnaround (principal and 50 percent of staff replaced), closure (school is closed and students are transferred elsewhere) and restart (school is closed and reopened as a public school academy).

Whiston said the school chose the transformation model because it best fit what the school needed to turn things around. He added that EFHS Principal Scott Casebolt, who took over at the school last year, has already made a difference as evident in the jump in test scores. Graduation rates also increased by 6 percent from 2012 to 2013.

Casebolt said the school has made good strides over the last year, but there is room for more improvement in student performance.

“We have high expectations,” Casebolt said. “Every student that comes to Edsel Ford can and will learn. Everything we do here is geared at improving achievement in the students.”

Casebolt added that the school is having an instructional audit performed to look at the school’s curriculum and make sure that it is consistent between different classrooms.

Another big change brought on by the priority rating is that students at EFHS will now have a longer school day. Classes will be extended one hour, until 3:15 p.m., to allow extra learning time for students.

DPS Assistant Supt. Gail Shenkman said the additional hour will allow struggling students an opportunity for extra learning time while giving students proficient in their studies an extra hour to attend classes they previously didn’t have time to take.

Shenkman added that there are some students who will not be affected, including those in dual enrollment, attending the Dearborn Center for Science, Math and Technology and students involved in the new five-year early college plan.

Whiston reminded parents that the ranking of one school in one category does not label the work the district does for students. He said that according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, seven of the top 60 schools in Michigan come from the DPS.
DPS Communications Coordinator David Mustonen said it’s important for people to not use this one ranking to form a negative opinion about the district.

“The knee-jerk reaction can be to look at one school, one score and one ranking and form a negative impression off of that,” Mustonen said. “But it’s really important to look at the bigger picture. Don’t look at one score on one day and judge an entire district or school based on that because that’s not fair.”

“We own it, and we will fix it,” Whiston said. “There’s a lot of great kids in that building and a lot of great staff and we will provide them with the tools to be successful.”

Whiston added that because the state issued the list so late in the summer and did not allow the district to inform parents and students of the changes until the list was officially released, the DPS only have two weeks to adjust everyone’s schedule and inform the staff and parents about the changes.

“Because of the lateness we expect people to be upset, but understand that we were directed by the state that we could not release anything beforehand,” Whiston said. “I wish we could have been taking to parents, students and staff about this for the last month.”

Casebolt said a parent meeting scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m. Sept. 4 will still take place and that he hopes to answer more questions and address parent concerns at it.

Whiston said that it was imperative for the school to bring its ranking back up because if it doesn’t, the school could become part of the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan if it remains a Priority School.

The EAA is a new statewide school system that can assume operations of Priority Schools if they do not improve their Top-to-Bottom ranking and student performance.

“If we don’t turn this around, Edsel Ford could no longer be part of Dearborn schools,” Whiston said. “There’s no way we’re going to let that happen.”

While the DPS had one school fall into the priority category, it had seven schools attain the highest rating of Reward School. Those schools performed in the top 5 percent in the Top-to-Bottom rankings. They were Becker, Henry Ford Early College, Howard, Lindbergh, Long, Maples and McCollough.

Whiston said these schools are “achieving statistically above what you would think they would if you factored in their socioeconomic status.”

There are also eight schools that are considered Focus Schools. These are schools that have the largest gap between the top 30 percent and bottom 30 percent in terms of academic achievements. They are Dearborn High School, William Ford, Haigh, Howe, Lowrey Elementary, Nowlin, Salina Intermediate and Woodworth.

“We are looking at differences within schools, not between schools,” Shenkman said. “We know that we have many high achieving students at Dearborn High, but there are also many low achieving students. That discrepancy gets you into the Focus category.”

Last year, Bryant and Fordson were also considered Focus Schools, but Whiston said that over the last year they have achieved enough academically to drop the Focus label. He added that they will still be on a cohort list of Focus Schools for the next four years.

Whiston said there were several factors that contributed to getting the two schools off the Focus list, including a focus on reading and writing and a focus on the performance of each individual student.

“Our staff knows each student and where they are at, and what that child needs to get them moving,” Whiston said. “So they are able to develop individual plans for the students.”

Shenkman added that there is a real focus on classrooms and concentrating on what students are learning as opposed to what is being taught.

Whiston agreed there was a difference and that is how the school approaches education.

“In education, you sometimes hear teachers say that they taught something, but the students didn’t learn it,” Whiston said. “But our philosophy is that if you taught it and they didn’t learn it, then you didn’t teach it.”

(Bob Oliver can be reached at boliver@bewickpublications.com.)

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