Board reacts to poor EFHS ranking

By BOB OLIVER
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — One week after the Michigan Department of Education released its annual Top-to-Bottom list, which labeled Edsel Ford High School as a Priority School, the Dearborn Public Schools Board of Education met to have its say on the matter.

The meeting took place Aug. 26, nearly one week after the state released its list that placed EFHS in the bottom 5 percent in the state due to its Z Score, a rating derived from the school’s Michigan Merit Exam results and recent improvement, the achievement gap between the top and bottom students and the graduation rate, and recent improvement.

“The community has been roiled by this announcement,” Board Trustee Mary Lane said. “It’s shocking. This will have a detrimental effect at Edsel Ford.”

Lane added that her children graduated from EFHS.

Board Vice President Hussein Berry said that he was “very, very frustrated” with the rating, but that he was not shocked by it.

“We know what the numbers are and their trend,” Berry said.

The statewide percentile rank of EFHS, compiled by the MDE using the Z Scores, was 67.7 in 2009, 79.1 in 2010, 23 in 2011, 9 in 2012 and 0 in 2013.

“This is not just an Edsel Ford problem,” Berry said. “If we just concentrate on Edsel Ford, we will have other buildings that we have to deal with next year.”

He added that the district has to do whatever it can to ensure a good learning environment for students.

“We are responsible for these students,” Berry said. “We can’t fail any of them.”

Board President Pam Adams said the district has to work to improve the scores at all schools and that there was “no sense in pointing fingers or blaming individuals.”

“We have a problem and we will fix it,” Adams said. “”I think that Edsel Ford, when they come out of this, will be a stronger school.”

DPS Director of Compensatory Education and School Improvement Kathleen McBroom told the board that EFHS became a priority school because of its Z Scores in reading and science.

Z Scores range from minus-3 to 3, with positive scores being good. Edsel Ford’s scores for reading and science were -2.2283 and -2.2791, respectively.

“The Z scores that are used for the Top-to-Bottom list indicate how much better or how much worse a school did compared to the average scores across the state,” McBroom said. “They are used to measure how far away from the norm a school’s performance is.”

She added that EFHS will be identified as a Priority School cohort until June 2017 and that it is imperative for the school to bring its ranking back up because if it does not, the school could become part of the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan.

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.

McBroom said EFHS has the support of the community and the school district.

“We’ve always said in this district that every child can learn,” McBroom said. “Right now every child must learn. We can do this, we will do this and Edsel Ford is not alone in this. We will rise to this challenge and move forward.”

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).

DPS Supt. Brian 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, already has made a difference as evident in the jump in test scores. Graduation rates also increased by 6 percentage points from 2012 to 2013.

Another 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.

McBroom added that the extra hour will give the students “more specific and individualized instruction.”

“It will be smaller group instruction and more focused with a lot of data analysis to figure out exactly what kids are deficient in what areas and what skills they need,” McBroom said.

The funding for the extra time and needed resources also was discussed. The district is required to earmark about $2.2 million of its Title 1 funds for EFHS. This will be used for transportation, additional resources and staffing.

Board Secretary Joseph Guido expressed concern that shifting resources to concentrate on one school could pull valuable resources from another that needs them.

“My concern is that if we have other schools that are at risk, we’re pulling funds away from their programs,” Guido said. “Don’t we then increase the probability that a second school will reach this level and require additional funds? It could snowball in a direction that we don’t want it to.”

Whiston responded that DPS schools Fordson, Bryant and Duvall were able make significant academic improvements despite not receiving a lot more funding.

Those three schools were listed as Focus Schools last year but raised their scores enough to get taken off of that list. They will remain on a cohort list or the next four years.

Focus schools have the largest gap between the top 30 percent and bottom 30 percent in terms of academic achievements. For 2013, the DPS has eight Focus Schools: Dearborn High School, William Ford, Haigh, Howe, Lowrey Elementary, Nowlin, Salina Intermediate and Woodworth.

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

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