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Article of Interest - Education YES!

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Bridges4Kids LogoEducation Board Approves New Performance Indicators
Gongwer News Service, February 10, 2005
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Schools this fall will have a new set of performance indicators to consider for their Education YES! Report Cards. And this spring they will see those indicators have a little less weight.

While the weighting of the indicators versus Michigan Educational Assessment Program test results will not change, the new weighting system approved Tuesday by the State Board of Education would not allow the indicators to change the composite grade for a school by more than one grade from the achievement grade.

The performance indicators, such as teacher professional development programs and parental involvement, would still account for 33 percent of the composite grade for a school. But where previously the movement of grades based on that was only limited of the performance grade was F or D, that movement is now limited for all performance grades.

The change is leading into adoption, expected in the coming months, of a new set of performance indicators that officials said are more closely tied to what schools are doing with their school improvement plans than were the current indicators.

The new measures are based on 26 benchmarks the board said schools should achieve. Those benchmarks are divided into five strands: Leadership, Teaching and Learning, Personnel Professional Development, School and Community Relations, and Data and Knowledge Management.

Among the new benchmarks are such things as instructional support for teachers, quality and communication of the curriculum, collaboration among staff, communication with families and the community, and accessibility of school data.

"We could have tweaked, tinkered with and revised the present indicators and called it a day, but we had a vision for a larger product," said Yvonne Caamal Canul, chief of the Office of School Improvement.

Ed Roeber, chief of the Office of Educational Assessment and Accountability, said the change in the performance indicators will also encourage schools to pull the answers from their school improvement plan. "We don't want this to be the work of the school secretary," he said. "We want this to be the work of the school improvement team."

Department officials are still working out how the new indicators will be measured. The current system is to allow the schools to grade themselves, but Ms. Caamal Canul said the department is also considering on online test that would allow the department to set the grade based on answers provided by school personnel. The goal, she said, is a web-based form for school officials to complete.

And Mr. Roeber said the department hopes to have feedback systems in place as well that will allow schools to use the grades on their indicators to amend their improvement plans.

The department is in a bit of a rush to have work on the new indicators completed because they will have to be ready for schools to use by the fall. With the coming changes to the MEAP administration times to the fall to allow the school report cards to be issued sooner, the indicators must also be filed at that time.

Ms. Caamal Canul said the department hopes to have pilot collection of the indicator scores by April "so we can have it to the schools in the fall glitch free."

A glitch-free launch could also help other states looking to include performance indicators in their school grading systems. "Michigan is being viewed by some people as having a national model," said Acting Superintendent of Public Instruction Jeremy Hughes said. Ms. Caamal Canul has already been asked to make a presentation on the system to California officials, he said.

HIGH SCHOOL REFORM: School officials will be working in earnest this spring on plans to redesign how Michigan high schools function and, in light of the report from the Cherry Commission on Higher Education and Economic Development, how they interact with colleges and universities.

The department and Michigan State University are planning conferences on proposed changes March 14 and April 25. Mr. Hughes said the second conference was originally planned as a follow-up to the first, but is now planned to be a duplicate of the first to allow more attendees.

"There is a need for reforming high schools," said Chuck Breiner, superintendent of Howell Public Schools. "We have a 150-year cycle of high schools not really changing much."

The key change, Mr. Breiner said, will be more blending of high school and college courses. "I think you're going to see a very blurry picture, to the benefit of students, when you look at grades 10 to 14 as students start taking high school and college courses," he said.

"The relationship between high school and community colleges or even four year universities is very important," Ms. Straus said. "Doing something different is very imperative."

And, while much of the effort on high school reform has come from the K-12 community, Mr. Breiner said he expects to see more involvement from higher education as plans for changes begin to develop over the next six months, he said.

SCHOOL FUNDING: Outgoing Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins maintained that a paper he wrote on school financing and the need for more money in public schools was a primary reason for Governor Jennifer Granholm's call for his resignation. But if that paper dogged him out of office (a contention hotly denied by Granholm aides), it appears it will also continue to dog the State Board of Education.

Though Mr. Watkins is essentially gone from the department (his resignation is effective March 9, but the board Tuesday named Chief Academic Officer Jeremy Hughes as acting superintendent until that day), his paper on school funding will remain a point of discussion for the board, board President Kathleen Straus (D-Bloomfield Hills) said.

"We're moving ahead with the paper that we accepted in December," she said. "We have to look at the revenue side as well as the expense side."

She said the board was planning public forums on the issue in April and May.

And she said Ms. Granholm has agreed to work with the board on school funding issues.

FEDERAL SCHOOL FUNDING: Mr. Hughes again defended the department on charges that it was allowing federal funds to be returned unspent. "Very, very little federal money coming to the state stays here in the department," he said. "It flows through us to the schools."

But board members said the department could not divorce itself of any responsibility. "It is important that we view this as a collective responsibility," said board Vice President John Austin (D-Ann Arbor).

"You're saying it's not a department problem. Yes, it is, because the money came here," said board member Eileen Weiser (R-Ann Arbor).

"I think the solution will require an effort to monitor the funds as they're drawn down the first year," said board member Reginald Turner (D-Detroit).

Mr. Hughes said the department is working on a system that would make it aware of unspent federal funds before it gets reports from federal auditors on money being returned. He said that has been difficult to track because, while some districts spend and track the money at the district level, some pass it directly to the schools, which are then responsible for spending it. He said tracking the money at the building level is difficult under current systems.

Ms. Weiser said the department should be tracking not only how much of the money is spent, but also how much of the money is going to schools that are in phase 3 or higher sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind Act and particularly if any of those schools are returning funds unspent.

The department is also working with districts to be sure that, at least for Title I funds for at-risk students, schools are using up remaining funds left over from the prior fiscal year. Federal law allows those funds to be carried over for one year, but Mr. Hughes said many districts ignore the carry-over, where they may not be sure exactly how much is left until books are closed after the end of the fiscal year, in favor of the new award.

He said the state also filed an application with the U.S. Department of Education to redistribute some of its lapsed funds, but was one of 48 states where that application was rejected without time in the window opened by the federal department to refile the application.

And he said the state had not returned significant federal funds since 2001, which represented funds issued in 2000. "We have improved the process since 2001," he said. "We have really trimmed this down."

DETROIT SCHOOL FUNDING: Detroit Public Schools has submitted its deficit reduction plan, but Mr. Hughes said he has not had time yet to review much less approve it as statute requires.

SCHOOL CLOSURES: School districts around the state are closing buildings to save money. But board members noted Tuesday that many of those buildings are also under sanctions through the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Ms. Caamal Canul said department staff had noted the same trend. We're trying to monitor that because we don't want it to be an NCLB reason that it's closing," she said.

Though closing a school is one possible sanction under NCLB, none of the schools in question had failed to meet adequate yearly progress long enough to face that as a potential sanction.

Ms. Caamal Canul said the department is also working with districts that have schools in the higher sanction levels, which do require some restructuring of the school, to determine the best course of action. So far, she said, schools have tried a variety of programs to turn around student achievement.

"We just don't know which choices are more effective," Mr. Hughes said. "There's just not a pool of research."

But she said getting information from some of the schools has still been difficult. "I want to know for any one of these high priority schools what's going on inside that building," she said. "In order for us to provide technical support we need that information. It's been difficult to get that off the ground. It's been difficult to get that data."

And she said the research that is available shows many of those schools will have difficultly complying with NCLB in the time allowed. She said normal time to turn around progress in an elementary school is five years. For a high school, the time extends to eight years and for an entire district it is usually 12 years.

"Our challenge in the 21st Century is to shorten those timelines," Mr. Turner said. "If those timelines stay in place we're going to blow up a lot of school districts and schools."

SCHOOL DATA: The department is also beginning to scramble for data it will need to meet ongoing implementation of NCLB. Mr. Roeber said the Center for Educational Performance and Information had been working on a single record student database that would allow tracking of individual student scores as those students moved between grades and buildings, but he said funding for much of that project has been pulled because of budget cuts.

The main piece apparently still missing is the way to get the data out of the system once it is stored. Ms. Caamal Canul said she currently has to file a trouble ticket with department tech support to produce reports she needs.

"At some point we have to get that data to the schools," she said. "I don't have the data and yet we're forcing those schools to make data-driven decisions."

Mr. Roeber said in between six months and nine months he will have to ask the current MEAP contractor to develop the system, at a cost of about $10 million, to be sure the department can meet the federal requirements.

But Mr. Roeber also noted that whatever database is created would not officially be under the department's control. State law (PA 180, 2003) requires that all school data be collected only by CEPI.

Sue Carnell, Ms. Granholm's education advisor, said the system is farther along than it once was. "Not only are we working on the warehouse, we're also working on the P-16 piece so we can follow a child," she said. "The only reason we aren't where we need to be is funding."


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