News Story

School District Has to Spend $1 Million to Improve 'Failing' Academic Performance

But adjusting for the poverty level of its students, Godfrey-Lee gets an 'A'

Godfrey-Lee Public Schools had to divert about $1 million from its general fund to cover some of the costs for state-imposed sanctions for what the Michigan Department of Education deemed as failing academic performance by the students at the district's high school.

Superintendent David Britten said the state’s grants for the mandates didn’t cover all the costs necessary to execute the improvement plan, and programs had to be cut and class sizes increased.

Yet, the high school in the Godfrey-Lee Public Schools received an “A” grade from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy for its academic performance based on state standardized test scores from 2010 to 2013.

The discrepancy exists because the Mackinac Center factors in a student’s socioeconomic background into their academic performance. The Michigan Department of Education does not.

Lee High School in the Godfrey-Lee Public Schools had nearly 80 percent of its 497 students eligible for a free lunch.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan took 27 schools off the “Priority School” status on April 16. The schools were placed on the Michigan Department of Education’s list of poor performing schools after finishing in the bottom 5 percent of the state’s Top to Bottom list in 2010.

Schools on the list, including Lee, had to submit and follow school redesign plans to raise their academic performance out of the bottom 5 percent.

Bloomingdale Middle and High School of the Bloomingdale Public Schools also received an “A” from the Mackinac Center, but was put on the priority list by the MDE. Nearly 70 percent of the 412 Bloomingdale Middle and High School students are eligible for the free-lunch program.

Academic experts say there is little doubt that socioeconomic status can predict student standardized test scores.

Jack Schneider, an assistant professor at the College of Holy Cross who studies education policy, said socioeconomic status is a much more accurate measure of race and family income than it is of what students have learned in school. Selcuk Sirin, an associate professor at New York University who has done several studies on socioeconomic status, said it was one of the strongest correlates of academic performance.

“The state's Top-to-Bottom list is a proxy for student poverty,” said Audrey Spalding, the education policy director for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “By using this list to penalize low-scoring schools, the state risks penalizing schools for simply serving students from poverty backgrounds.”

Britten would not comment on whether the state should factor in a student’s socioeconomic background into its academic evaluations.

“Your (Mackinac Center) report card only demonstrates there is a gap due to socio-economic status,” Britten said in an email. “I prefer to focus on solutions that reduce and eventually eliminate that gap.”

Britten said more money is needed to do that.

He said getting off the state’s “priority” list was helped by the money provided by the state to address problems with poverty and English language learners.

“We proved it can work so that should be taken as evidence that more equitable state funding for high-needs students should be a state priority,” Britten said.

See also:

Michigan School Rankings Ignore Effects of Student Background

State School Rankings Mostly Measuring Race and Income Rather Than Performance

Flawed State Rankings Mean Some Principals Are Out of a Job

State Education Department Gives a Pass to Failing Districts; Punishes Charters

New Report Card Compares High School Test Scores and Adjusts For Economic Status

New Report Card Measures Elementary and Middle School Performance By Adjusting For Student Family Income