GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — New data from the Michigan Department of Education shows that more Michigan schools have fallen below state standards and must reach an agreement on how to address those slumping results.
Last school year, 255 schools in Michigan failed to meet minimum standards and now must put together a “Comprehensive Support and Improvement” plan. That includes being in the bottom 5% of schools or high schools with a 4-year graduation rate below 68%.
Of those 255 schools, several are in West Michigan, including 10 in the Kent Intermediate School District, seven in the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency, seven in the Calhoun ISD and four in the Muskegon Area ISD.
According to the MDE, that figure is up from 162 schools that qualified for a CSI plan following the 2016-17 school year. State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice believes three major factors played a role in the rising number and are already being addressed.
“What we are experiencing is the consequence of underfunding Michigan public school students, educators and education for many years, the resultant teacher shortage, and a once-in-a-century pandemic,” Rice said in a release. “Unfinished learning during the pandemic has resulted in generally lower, average student scores on the state’s M-STEP assessments, locally administered benchmark assessments, and national NAEP assessments.”
He continued: “That said, with the generational pre-K-12 funding negotiated between Governor Whitmer and the state Legislature for this fiscal year and last, including $575 million to begin to address the teacher shortage, as well as additional funds for expansion of preschool, detailed professional development for those teaching children to read, and the funding of increased staffing and the fleshing out of a comprehensive school mental health system in the state, there is optimism that we are turning the corner.”
Three of the Kent ISD schools earmarked for a CSI plan belong to Grand Rapids Public Schools: Campus Elementary School, Alger Middle School and Ottawa Hills High School. Leon Hendrix, the Executive Director of Communications for GRPS, said the district has been working to divert more resources to those three schools.
“This is the culmination of two years where we lost a lot of learning,” Hendrix told News 8. “These lists are based largely on standardized testing scores, and we know that when our kids are not in the classroom, they don’t perform as well. … This wasn’t breaking news or new information to us that these schools were having some struggles.”
For GRPS, Hendrix says its about making the most out of the district’s budget and putting funding to good use.
“Here in the district, you’ve heard us talking about the strategic plan and the facilities master plan. That’s what this is all about, making sure that all of our district’s resources, every dollar that we are blessed with from the taxpayers, is going toward advancing the success of our scholars. And we’re going to be doing that to make sure these schools continue to show gains and improvement,” Hendrix said. “We’ve had schools that have ended up on this list before and we’ve been successful time and again.”
Dr. Regena Fails Nelson, a professor of early childhood education at Western Michigan University, told News 8 that it’s important not to view the list of low-performing schools in a negative light.
“I was excited to see (Dr. Rice’s) response that a school being on this list isn’t a punitive response, but actually a helpful response that we have to track progress of our students,” Nelson told News 8. “Once we see some indicators that they are not doing well, it’s an indicator for us to provide more resources.”
Expanding resources at schools, however, can be extremely difficult if you don’t have the staffing to do the work. That’s why Nelson believes the state needs to focus on ways to entice people back to the classroom.
“People look at their return on investment, even as an undergraduate student who is deciding what profession to choose. If they’re paying $100,000 for a 4-year degree and they start in a profession with a starting salary of $40,000 — if they are lucky — is that return on investment worthwhile for them? Or can they choose another profession?” Nelson proposed. “Like it or not, people look at those numbers and that’s how they choose their careers.”
Another way to expand the teacher talent pool is to eliminate obstacles that keep people out of classrooms. She recommended certification programs to streamline ways to get people certified to teach.
“There are people who are already working in schools who aren’t certified, but they are support staff. They’re teaching assistants, they are bus drivers. They are people who are working in the lunchroom,” she said. “They can do those programs in 12 months, get that on-the-job experience, have extended internships and taking coursework that’s pretty flexible.”
Nelson said it’s also important to pay attention to the specific challenges certain students at a certain school are facing.
“We look at the test scores of the students and we see the areas where they’re behind by a grade level or two, and then we provide intensive support,” she said. “So, if it’s reading, for instance, there’s a reading specialist who can pull those students out, do more intensive learning to help those students individually catch up with their reading. But when you have so many students who are needing this help, that caseload of that one reading specialist in a building, they’re not able to give that kind of time and attention to all of the students who need it.”
She said it’s also important to look for needs beyond simple test scores, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Social and behavioral issues — we’re noticing that’s an impact of the pandemic as well,” Nelson said. “Students are coming in with more social needs, more emotional needs as they process what has happened over the last two years with their lives being disrupted. That has impacted their learning.”
Hendrix has seen similar issues with GRPS.
“That is the No. 1 strategy in the strategic plan for the Grand Rapids Public Schools: Meeting the holistic needs of our scholars. We’re not just talking about what they need to perform on a multiple-choice test. We’re giving them the tools they need to succeed in life, and some of those things are hard to measure,” Hendrix said.