Use of the Top-to-Bottom List

There is no question that state and local officials are attempting to use the TTB list to measure school quality and that the general public views the list in that way. In a published statement accompanying the release of the rankings in 2011, State Superintendent Mike Flanagan said, “[The TTB list] provides a real look at how our local schools are doing in educating their students.”[13] Each year, the release of the TTB list prompts dozens of news articles throughout the state based on the presumption that the list allows parents and school officials to adequately measure school performance and compare performance among schools.[14]

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Michigan’s TTB list is also used to satisfy federal requirements.[15] In documents published to guide states in applying for waivers from requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the U.S. Department of Education writes that states must identify “Priority” (low-performing), “Focus” (large achievement gaps) and “Reward” (high-performing) schools.[16]

The federal government does not, however, specify how states must identify schools to meet this requirement. Federal officials, for example, required states to identify 10 percent of Title I-funded schools[*] with large achievement gaps as Focus schools.[17] In response, Michigan officials chose to measure achievement gaps between the top-scoring 30 percent of students and bottom-scoring 30 percent of students within each school.[18]

Graphic 1 outlines the general methodology used to generate the state TTB list in comparison to federal guidance. As shown, the state has some flexibility when it comes to choosing how to measure student growth and achievement.

Graphic 1: The Top-to-Bottom List and Federal Guidance

School Category

Michigan Methodology

Federal Guidance

Priority Schools

Bottom 5 percent of schools, based on student achievement (50%), student growth (25%) and size of achievement gap between bottom- and top-scoring 30 percent of students (25%).

Bottom 5 percent of schools on both achievement and student growth, or schools with low graduation rates.

Focus Schools

Schools with the largest achievement gap between bottom- and top-scoring 30 percent of students.

Determination based on low achievement and student growth, largest gaps between subgroups.

Reward Schools

Top 5 percent of schools on TTB list, plus the top 5 percent of schools with the greatest average student growth and any school on the “Beating the Odds” list.[†]

“Highest performing” schools making “adequate yearly progress” or “high progress” schools.”[‡]

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Michigan Department of Education.

[*] Title I is a federal law that provides additional funding to schools that serve a large population of disadvantaged students. Federal money under the program is slated for items such as school wide improvement and upgrading educational programs for disadvantaged students. For more, see: "Title I - Improving The Academic Achievement Of The Disadvantaged," (U.S. Department of Education), (accessed Sept. 16, 2013).

[†]  “Beating the Odds” schools are deemed by MDE to be academically outperforming similar schools. BTO schools were identified in two ways: Finding schools that did significantly better than expected, and finding schools that dramatically outperformed peer schools, with similarities based on variables such as grade configuration, funding level, enrollment, student demographic makeup and more. For more information, see: "2011-2012 Beating the Odds Business Rules," (Michigan Department of Education), (accessed Sept. 16, 2013).

[‡]  ”Adequate Yearly Progress” was established by the federal government under the No Child Left Behind Act. Each state establishes AYP criteria, subject to federal guidelines. For more information, see: "2012-2013 Michigan District & School Accountability Scorecards: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)," (Michigan Department of Education), (accessed Sept. 20, 2013).