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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.

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