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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Portage Students NOT Reading at Grade Level

I have recently stated that Portage Schools has nearly 25% of our students reading below grade level. Today, the MEAP scores were posted showing Portage scores in the 90 percent passing rate. How can both statements be true?
2008 2009 2010 Change from 2009

3rd grade reading 94% 96% 94.30% -1%

4th grade reading 94% 94% 93% -1%

5th grade reading 93% 95% 91.9% -3%

6th grade reading 93% 96% 92% -4%

7th grade reading 91% 92% 89.8% -3%

8th grade reading 86% 88% 91.9% 4%

Here are the test scores as published. In addition, note that we had four elementary buildings report 100% passing rates for reading. First let me acknowledge and recognize this level of achievement. Clearly, even though the overall numbers are mixed, there are areas where we are making notable improvement.
The disconnect in the data is in the process the State of Michigan uses to define passing. The State of Michigan DOES NOT DEFINE MEAP PASSING AT A LEVEL EQUIVALENT TO READING AT GRADE LEVEL. This is incredibly important for parents to understand. In order to be certain your child is reading at grade level, they need to score a “1” on the MEAP. A “2”, which is considered passing, is NOT necessarily reading at grade level for 3rd through 5th grade. When you hear the discussion about changing “cut” scores, this is what it means to you.
Why should you believe what I am saying? Well, Michigan’s State Superintendent of Schools is saying the same thing. Quoted in today’s press,
Michael Flanagan, the Michigan state school superintendent, in comments from a press release, acknowledged that an increase in the cut scores will cause proficiency rates to drop. But he said it's necessary to "move beyond a basic skill level to becoming career and college ready ..."
"We want to provide an authentic view of where students are academically," Flanagan in the statement.

From The Detroit News:

As the School Board has visited the individual buildings, we have discovered that our principals know this to be true. I commend them for recognizing the problem and beginning to work on really helping our children read at grade level.

If you are not a parent, why should this matter to you? Well, did you know that states predict the number of jail cells needed in 20 years based on the number of third graders who cannot read at grade level? Children who cannot read at grade level in third grade are less likely to graduate and more likely to end up in jail. We should all care!! This is a huge problem even in good school districts like Portage. 25% of a big district like ours is over 2000 students.
It is not my intent to disparage our school district. It is my intent to speak truth in order to compel people to action.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 28, 2011 Special Board Meeting

My views on a few important outcomes from last night's meeting - 1) We selected Michigan Leadership Institute, Craig Misner, to help us with our search for an interim superintendent. Likely this interim person will be from Michigan and he has good connections to help us find good candidates. We expect this person will be superintendent for a year. 2) We kept undecided the selection firm for the permanent superintendent. There seems to be a fair amount of support to using a more national firm in this process to open up our candidate pool from other states as well as consideration to non-traditional candidates who might bring strong leadership where they would leverage the good educational leadership we have within our district. And of course, we are encouraging internal staff to consider their qualifications in applying. 3) We renewed our building administrators contracts for two years. This is in recognition that we have good work underway in the buildings and we wanted to send a strong signal of confidence to our principals as they continue their efforts to teach each and every child. 4) We renewed central office contracts for one year. This year will provide continuity during our transition to a new superintendent, while maintaining the flexibility to make organizational or personnel changes as a new leader would determine appropriate. 5) We discussed the process for hiring three new principals, which is underway. An important change to the process was agreed upon, to make the building level interviews open to the public. I hope many parents and staff choose to attend. 6) The next few months will involve the development of the 2011-12 budget. Please watch and comment as we proceed. We will be using the priorities developed as a result of the community surveys and forums to assist in setting priorities. Our next meeting is scheduled for 4PM Wednesday, March 30, 2011 to work with Mr. Misner on the specific plan for hiring the interim superintendent. As always, this meeting to open to the public.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Kurdys Comments from February 21, 2011 Board Meeting

PPS Trustee Comments February 21, 2011 Melanie Kurdys

I want to take a few minutes to talk about our vision of “Super-tier”. Just what does “super-tier” mean? “Super-tier” is a term this Board coined last August to communicate what we believe is our vision for Portage Schools, our vision of what our school system needs to become to meet the challenge of educating each and every student. Back in 2008, the then sitting school board articulated in its policy ends statement, a starting point for this vision. I paraphrase:

“All students..…will…be enabled to succeed at the next stage of their lives….”

That means they are prepared. Prepared means every Kindergartener is ready for first grade. Prepared means every third grader can read at or above third grade level. Prepared means every 5th grader is ready for the transition to middle school. Prepared means every 8th grader is ready for the challenge of high school. Prepared means every high schooler passes Algebra 1, geometry, Algebra 2 and every other math class a student needs in preparation for his or her future. Prepared means every student in our district can read at or above grade level. Prepared means students develop skills, like problem solving, teamwork, and communication skills. Prepared means every student graduates with not only the minimum education required by the State of Michigan, it also means each child graduates ready to meet his or her personal next stage, be that college, the military, technical training or employment.

This Board took that vision to another level last summer. We embraced the concept of “super-tier” in recognition that other school districts are making better progress toward actually achieving success for each and every student. “Super-tier” means we want to be among the first districts reporting 100% of our students meeting the vision of being prepared. We want to be among the districts reporting:
“Of course our students meet the state minimums, but more importantly,our students become all they can and want to be.”

Is this vision difficult? Yes. But if public education is to survive, we must believe it is possible. We must believe that every single child can learn AND it is our moral obligation to teach all children.

Some have suggested Portage is good enough. Do you realize, if only 10% of our students are not meeting the state minimum, this represents more than 850 students? Would you be willing to stand before an audience of these 850 children and their parents and say Portage is good enough? What might they hear? You are not worth the effort?

Some have suggested teaching all children would be too expensive. Research shows there is no correlation between spending and student achievement. But we may need to re-allocate resources to meet all student needs. Would you be willing to stand in front of those 850 children and their parents and say, we can’t teach you because it is too expensive? What might they hear? You are not worth the investment?

Some have suggested expecting all children to learn is to be too demanding and unfair. I ask you, from whom shall we expect less? Which child will you look in the eye and say, “Never mind, this is too hard for you.” What might they hear? You are not capable, so don’t even try?

All the adults in our school system must believe every single child can learn AND it is our moral obligation to teach all children. Once we commit to this belief, we can all work together, in partnership with our students’ parents, to begin the hard work required to achieve the “super-tier” vision. Committed people can achieve amazing results.

Who can forget the incredible story of Helen Keller and her dedicated teacher, Ann Sullivan? Ms. Sullivan broke through the barriers of blindness and deafness to reach and teach Helen. Helen Keller went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Radcliff College. Most of us were not around back in 1825 when Braille was invented, but before then it was believed that blind people would never read. And it was not all that long ago that we believed people without legs could not ever walk again, and certainly never drive again. Both of these are not true anymore, due to the commitment and innovation of people who believed in the impossible.

I am hoping the resistance to this vision is not about the children at all, but is about our fears and our concerns in our ability to meet this incredible challenge. We all know this is an incredible challenge. If it were easy, we would already be there. Every single child comes to us with issues. We cannot be deterred by this fact of life. Instead, let us focus on the fact that every child comes to us with dreams. It is our job to create a system that effectively leverages all our collective resources, talent, time and money. It is our job to create a system where caring adults know each and every child, where we teach each and every one the information and skills they need, where we inspire each and every one to think creatively, to solve problems, to invent, to think beyond our limits of possibilities. It is time for us to come together to commit to becoming a “super-tier” district, a district renowned in its ability to enable all children apply their strengths, overcome their challenges and achieve their dreams.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Super Tier...What would it cost?

Some have suggested that Super-Tier would be too expensive. Truth is there is no correlation to spending and achievement after some base spending. You see evidence of this in Detroit and Washington DC, two of the most highly funded school districts with terrible results for kids.

There is evidence that districts in wealthy communities have high achievement, but most research shows it is less about the funding and more about the students, their backgrounds and family support.

To move every student to reading and doing math at or above grade level, certainly new resources will be needed. But we should look for realignment, utilizing evidence based pratices and eliminating programs that are not as effective.

I have been asked if this means I would support eliminating other programs like art, music and PE. Certainly not. Research shows that these other programs help develop the whole child and provide a context for student engagement. Additionally, good supplemental programs have been shown to improve student learning in math and reading.

The key here is that we need to be thoughtful about our how we leverage our limited resources, talent, time and money, through evidence based practices, to enable each and every student to achieve.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Super Tier...what does it mean?

OK, simply, the phrase came up in a board retreat recognizing that Portage Schools is good, but we are not considered "top-tier" in Michigan in the same vein as Ann Arbor Schools, Forest Hills Schools, Novi, Bloomfield Hills, Midland, you know the list. We are good, but we are not among the best in the state.

Last year, and it turns out again this year, our community outreach says they expect us to be among the best, not just in the region, not even just in the state, but in the nation. Super-tier means we are one of the best in the entire US. Not an insignificant challenge.

But really, what does super-tier mean for us? What would we be, what would we be doing, if we were super-tier?

My first objective would be that we have "every child reading at or above grade level". One reasonable caveat is kids with an IEP, who would have the goal of reading at or above the IEP target. More on this if you need it.

The next objective would be to have "every child doing math at or above grade level". Same caveat as for reading.

If we achieved these objectives, we would move from the around the 90th percentile in achievement to well above the 95th percentile in the state and even better in the nation.

One problem talking about super-tier in terms of numbers is that it masks the important fact that we are talking about real people here, our students. In our school district, every single percent reflects the reality for more than 86 children. Improving the success rate from 90% to 95% means we have found a way to move more than 400 children to more successful learning and achievement. Imagining and working to realize that every single one of our children can learn at the highest level, now that is super-tier.

A real stretch goal is college readiness. Given that over 90% of our student want to go to college, how many of them should be prepared so they can take college freshman courses and pass, ie, NOT placing in remedial classes (that cost them money and do not count as credit toward graduation)? I would propose well into the 90 percent, if not 100%. After all, these kids are the ones who say they want to go to college. These are the most motivated students. Shouldn't these kids, and their parents, expect that if they attend a good high school and graduate with B's or better, when they go to college they can place into freshman classes and pass? Seems like a reasonable expectation to me.

But you know what? According to ACT, only 24% of our students are actually ready for college! Now before you go dissing Portage, the best schools are not much better, only at a 50% college readiness level. But that's the real problem. If we benchmark our success against even the best schools, we may not reach the levels of student achievement that our kids, and our taxpayers, expect and deserve.