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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Portage Schools Can Use Data to Improve..Letter to the Editor

While Portage has a good public school system, emerging evidence indicates the Portage Public Schools’ High School academic achievement has been in a steady decline for the last five years. One of Portage’s strongest marketing factors has been a highly respected and high-performing school district. Declining performance of a school district affects all residents. In light of the allure of the Kalamazoo Promise and improvements in surrounding districts, such as Mattawan, we risk declining status and associated falling property values if we fail to recognize the problem and act upon it. This is a wake-up call to Portage citizens to become informed and voice their concerns.

The facts about Portage Schools' academic achievement and MEAP scores are readily available on the Michigan Department of Education website ( and the Standard & Poor’s SchoolMatters website ( The Board and Superintendent have demonstrated a state of denial when presented this information over the last five weeks with responses of deflections, deferrals and excuses.

From 2001 to 2006, Portage high school MEAP scores have dropped in reading, math, writing and science, four key areas important to life long success for our students. Over this time, the number of students scoring proficient on the MEAP has gone from a high well above 85% to the current 2006 numbers, most, below 75%. Other districts have shown a decline, but investigation shows that districts similar in characteristic to Portage have not declined as significantly.

The PPS Superintendent claims the PPS MEAP data on these websites is not the same as what the district receives from the State of Michigan. He is correct. However, the data available to the district has lower achievement scores and reinforces the finding that Portage high school MEAP scores are in a clear declining trend.

The Board President and Superintendent suggest that MEAP trends are not a good indicator for academic performance. But that is not what the experts say. The Michigan Department of Education website has a page called Design and Validity of the MEAP test. It states, “Properly used, the MEAP test can measure academic achievement as compared to expectations and whether it is improving over time and to determine whether programs and policies are having the desired effect.” Standard & Poor’s says, “For many, the most compelling performance benchmark is to compare a school, school district or state against itself over time, for the purpose of measuring continuous progress. By analyzing trends and changes over time, patterns emerge that can help identify the “gain” in academic achievement and gauge the effectiveness of education initiatives…”

The MEAP is important to students and parents as well. Students must pass the MEAP in order to qualify for the Michigan Merit Scholarship. The number of Portage students qualifying for this important scholarship money has dropped over these five years, making college much less affordable for our children.

The declining data is contradictory to what Portage Schools say about themselves. Consider the misleading claims the administration calls PPS Points of Pride as reported in the Portage Gazette October 2, 2006 and in the marketing brochure for the Portage Education Foundation Campaign Drive:

1) MEAP scores in the 90th percentile – S&P reports a consolidated number they call RaMP, Reading & Math Proficiency, as 85% for PPS for 2005. Portage 2006 MEAP proficiencies by grade for math & reading average is 88% proficient. In terms of relative position in the state, PPS is at about the 87 percentile range. Clearly, PPS has fallen below the 90th percentile.

2) Above state averages in all areas at all grade levels – It should be noted that PPS average annual changes are on a slower improvement and faster decline than many of the State average annual changes. If the current trends continue, PPS could fall below State averages within four years.

3) S&P named PPS District as an “Outperforming District” for 2004 and 2005, placing this in the top 8% of Districts statewide. –This claim is untrue. Portage was named Outperforming District for 2003 and 2004. PPS has dropped off the list for 2004 and 2005. S&P no longer considers Portage an “Outperforming District”.

Could it be that Portage students are not trying hard enough? Evidence suggests otherwise. Over the last six years an increasing number of students have been enrolling in International Baccalaureate courses, one of PPS most challenging curricula. And the number of students achieving high honors, over 3.0, has also been increasing. In his 2006 letter to the community, the Superintendent commented that he believes Portage students are serious about their education.

Could it be that Portage teachers are causing this decline? It is unlikely since the decline is occurring throughout the district. And every student and parent knows that we are blessed with teachers who care deeply and work hard to educate our children. The most likely cause of this decline, as suggested by MDOE and S&P, are the policies, procedures and processes established at a district level.

The Portage School District is still viewed as a high performing school district throughout the State of Michigan. The PPS School Board and Superintendent must acknowledge this problem now, so we can begin working together to change policies and processes to create a positive trend of academic achievement.

While some will view this as an attack on the Portage School District, it is rather intended as a wake-up call to the community. Defining the problem is half the solution. Failing to recognize there is a problem is a sure road to failure.

Melanie Kurdys is an active volunteer parent in curriculum development and other parent committees of the Portage school district.

Why Portage Needs New Perspective on the School Board

» More From The Kalamazoo Gazette

Portage board defends meeting site
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
By Sarita 388-8575

Portage Public Schools trustees and the district's attorney say the school board did nothing wrong in moving a discussion of candidates for superintendent from its board room to a conference room without public notice.

After two 90-minute public interviews with superintendent candidates at the district administration building Wednesday, trustees moved to a conference room to discuss candidates' merits. The room had a board suitable for writing down notes and was better suited for the board to have dinner, but trustees also wanted to critique candidates in private, the board's president and vice president said.
``These are people -- their lives and their careers,'' board president Shirley Johnson said of the candidates. ``We wanted to be extremely sensitive.''

Melanie Kurdys, who is running for a school board seat May 8, said she asked Johnson and board attorney John Manske if she could attend the meeting in the conference room, but was discouraged from doing so. Kurdys said she decided not to attend because she felt she would be a distraction as the board considered possible successors to retiring superintendent Pete McFarlane.



"I will work to create an environment where our children can become all they want and more than they imagine."

  • Proud mother of three
  • Portage Northern High School "PTO" President 2 years
  • Portage School Curriculum Committee member 2 years
  • Portage Schools Strategic Planning member 2 years
  • Math tutor in four different states over 10 years
  • 1977 Graduate University of Michigan Bachelor of Science in Math
  • Retired Director of Information Systems


  • Listen to and serve the community by being accessible and accountable.
  • Engage the talents of individuals in our schools & community.
  • Analyze options openly using relevant data & research.
  • Decide, emphasize "best for our children" and fiscal responsibility.

"After High School" Math Expectations Research by Kurdys

Link here to see the research analysis conducted by M. Kurdys for Portage Public Schools as part of the math curriculum review. Despite complaints that the math standards are "too hard", clearly, the new Michigan High School requirements are a move in the right direction to improve student college and job readiness.