Thursday, August 30, 2012

Back to School

In just a few days, our Lake Orion families will wake up to the familiar sounds of early morning alarm clocks, school buses, and the eager voices of our students as they begin a new school year.  While Carpenter Year Round Elementary School has been in session since August 1, the remaining ten Lake Orion Schools open their doors on Tuesday, September 4.
And, we’re ready to welcome our students and their families to an exciting school year in which we will continue to build on our strengths as a school community. Despite all the changes we hear about in education these days, our students will always remain first. Their education has been, and will continue to be, the basis of all our decisions to realize the district vision and mission of “educating our students for the challenges of tomorrow by providing an exemplary education for all learners.”

Lake Orion welcomes new staff members
We look forward to welcoming our returning staff as well as a number of new staff members who will be joining our school family.  Teachers and administrators have been engaged in numerous professional learning opportunities throughout the summer and last week eighteen new teachers enthusiastically attended a weeklong orientation to become acclimated to the district procedures and policies as well as become thoroughly familiar with Lake Orion’s curriculum for their specific grade/content area.

 Steve Hawley, Lake Orion High School’s new principal, has been “on the job” since July 1 becoming acquainted with staff, parents and students and getting ready to welcome close to 2600 high school students next week.    

This school year we are very excited to introduce the Freshman Academy at Lake Orion High School that will focus specifically on the areas most likely to affect students’ success during their initial steps into the high school setting. It is designed to help all students succeed academically by eliminating some of the pressures they often face as they enter high school. Small learning communities and teams will be established within the larger high school to create a smoother transition from middle to high school.

Our theme for the year is Synergy - a term that refers to the combined power of everyone working together to create a greater effect than if they were separate.  With the synergy that is created by our dedicated staff, involved parents and supportive community our outcome of student success will definitely be achieved!

As always, we invite our community to join us at any of our schools for the many activities open to the public and we thank you for your continuing support.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Michigan Department of Education Focus "Hit" List

358 schools across Michigan were placed on a list based on the gap between their high achieving and low achieving students.  Many of these schools are achieving at the top 90th percent of all schools in the state – meaning that collectively the students in that school outperformed 90% of the schools in Michigan.  Despite their collective results, these schools were placed on a Focus "Hit" List because there was a large gap between the top 30% of students and the bottom 30% of students.

Determining whether a school is improving based on the gap in achievement of students in the top 30% and the bottom 30% is ludicrous.  This is not a metric that identifies achievement; rather it rewards sameness.  In other words, schools are less likely to have a large gap if most of their students perform at the same level, whether it is high or low.

What we should be looking at is whether each student, regardless of his or her ability level, is showing improvement/growth from year to year.  And, the determination of whether to be put on a Focus "Hit" List would be whether the students in the bottom 30% are showing the same level of improvement as those in the top 30%.  In other words, if a school is doing its “job”, all students will show gains in achievement for each year of instruction, including those in the top 30% as well as the bottom 30%.

The implication in the recent Michigan Department of Education (MDE) Focus "Hit" List is that these schools are teaching the top 30% of students and ignoring those in the bottom 30%.  Could it be that children have different abilities?  In most cases, public schools include a diverse population of students based on where their home is located; not their ability level.  And, this includes students with high ability, low ability, special needs, high income and low income, disadvantaged and advantaged…

Let’s be honest – in any heterogeneous population, there will always be an achievement gap between the top performers and the bottom performers.  Let’s use the Olympics as an analogy.  Even among those who qualified to compete, there’s a gap between those who won gold and those who barely completed the event.  If we use the faulty premise that focusing on improving those who finish in the bottom 30% of their team will result in them performing as well as those in the top 30% we would expect that everyone would cross the finish line at the same time.  That is never going to happen.  There will always be gold medal winners like Gabby Douglas or Michael Phelps and there will always be a gap between them and those who do not win medals. 

The Michigan Department of Education needs to stop this comparison nonsense of lumping everyone together based on one year's data from one assessment measure (MEAP/MME) and putting public schools on lists that label them as winners or losers so that the media can have a field day with the results.  Instead, focus on helping those schools where there is no achievement gap because all students are performing at low levels and dedicate resources to ensure that each child, regardless of his/her ability receives the individualized support s/he needs to be successful and improve from year to year. That’s what “No Child Left Behind” means!

In the Lake Orion Community School District, we determine improvement by looking at the results of multiple data sources for each individual child to determine whether s/he is making gains from year to year.  If not, we provide additional support for that child.  A “red flag” is raised if we see that multiple students in any one classroom are not achieving; this then becomes a different problem that is addressed with the teacher. 

Specifically, our data on the 30% of students considered “low performing” in the four Lake Orion schools identified on the Focus "Hit" List show improvement for these students in both Reading and Math from one year to the next. We will continue to provide additional support to these students with the goal being to increase improvement for each child; our goal is not to close a gap between the high achievers and the low achievers based on an illogical ranking of children from one year’s assessment results.