The news that Michigan students performed better on state
standardized tests in 2006 than 2005 made headlines in many papers across the
state in January — a bright spot in a month clouded with news of potential
school budget cuts.
The reports followed a Michigan Department of Education
announcement that math scores improved at every grade level on Michigan
Educational Assessment Program tests, and reading scores improved or stayed the
same. Mike Flanagan, the state’s superintendent of public instruction,
attributed the higher scores to improved "content expectations" which give
teachers a clearer picture of what is expected at each grade level.
But public school academy officials see a story within that
story. MEAP results also show that public school academies, or charter schools,
improved their overall performance on 19 of 27 tests given to kindergarten
through eighth-graders statewide. While charter averages are still below
statewide averages, the gap is narrower than a year ago. And in a direct
comparison of charter schools to conventional public school districts where most
charters are located, charter students in general outperformed their
conventional public school counterparts.
"Michigan’s charter schools are continuing to narrow the gap,"
said Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School
At the state level, charter schools and conventional public
schools generally gained or lost ground in the same subject areas and at the
same grade levels. But in many cases when charters improved, they improved more,
according to analysis of the scores by MAPSA and other charter school officials.
For instance, the number of eighth-graders who met or exceeded expectations in
math went up by 5 percentage points among conventional public schools. Among
charters, the increase was 6 percentage points. Fifth-grade reading proficiency
went up by 4 percentage points among traditional schools, but by 7 percentage
points among charter schools.
At the local level, comparing charter schools in specific
communities like Grand Rapids, Lansing and Detroit to conventional public
schools in those same communities showed that charter students generally did as
well or better. In Detroit, for example, charter school scores exceeded local
district scores on 24 of the 27 MEAP tests. The Michigan Department of Education
uses those comparisons, as well as the statewide comparisons, to report to the
Legislature on charter school progress.
Some of the most significant differences between charter school
and conventional public school students were found at the middle-school level.
Seventh- and eighth-grade charter students in the Lansing area, for example,
performed better than Lansing-area conventional public schools on every MEAP
"It affirms what we’re doing," said Greg Dykhouse, director of
academics for Black River Public School in Holland, of Black River’s test
results. Black River scores were higher than the state average on all but one
test, and higher than nearly every score reported by conventional public
districts in the area, even though those districts reported gains as well. "We
don’t put our sights on the MEAP, but we look at the results and try to reflect
as a staff," he said.
Central Michigan University also uses more than the MEAP to
assess the schools it authorizes, according to Jim Goenner, executive director
of The Center for Charter Schools at CMU.
|"If the conventional schools say they’ve
improved, perhaps it’s because of the competition."
"The MEAP is one tool and the scores are one set of indicators
of the performance of schools and knowledge and skills of students. CMU pays
attention to the MEAP results … but as one part of a more comprehensive
Individualized School Performance Review process," Goenner told Michigan
Education Report by e-mail. CMU requires on-line computer tests each fall and
spring that "provide much more immediate evaluation of what students know and
are able to do in the subjects of math and reading."
State officials attributed the overall increase in MEAP scores
to improved "Grade Level Content Expectations," which explain what is expected
at each grade level and what will be assessed on state tests.
"To the extent that schools have followed CMU’s requirements,
and aligned their curriculum and instruction to the new expectations, scores
have increased," said Mark Weinberg, director of academic accountability for CMU
Charter Schools, also by e-mail. "If schools have not done the hard work of
alignment, we find that their scores do not improve…. We support the idea of
more clearly defining content expectations and more rigorous state standards in
Dykhouse suggested that the Holland area — where there are three
public school academies with varying educational models, along with traditional
public schools — would be a good place to study whether school choice leads to
improved academics in the community at large. "If the conventional schools say
they’ve improved, perhaps it’s because of the competition."
The numbers show that in some cases, while charters narrowed the
gap between themselves and state averages, host districts lowered the gap
between themselves and charter schools.
"Quality always drives quality," Quisenberry said on the same
topic. "Good people running good schools will say, ‘Hey, they’re gaining on
Black River was chartered by Grand Valley State University in
1996. Right now, Michigan law has limited the number of charter schools that
public universities can authorize to 150. Conventional school districts,
intermediate school districts and community colleges also can authorize charter
schools. A total of 225 charter schools were in operation in 2005-2006.
Asked if the MEAP results are an argument for lifting that cap,
Quisenberry said the larger question is how to create more quality schools in
general. One way would be to make it easier to replicate successful programs
already found in charter schools as well as conventional public schools.
In some traditional school districts, principals and teachers do
not have the authority they need to implement change, he said. "Why are we
getting in the way of those people who want to achieve success? … From a policy
standpoint, how do we remove obstacles so they can respond?"
MEAP scores are important to public schools because they are a
factor in determining if the school meets the requirements of the federal No
Child Left Behind law. Schools that do not make Adequate Yearly Progress,
determined in part by standardized test scores, may be required to offer
tutoring or allow students to attend a different school at public expense, among