Manistique school feels effects of test results

MANISTIQUE – The Michigan Educational Assessment Program, commonly known as MEAP, may be going the way of the slide rule, but for Emerald Elementary in Manistique the effects of the standardized test are still being felt.

The Michigan Department of Education used the MEAP test as a gauge for the state’s school accountability program known as the Top-to-Bottom List. The list uses the test data to rank public schools in the state based on achievement, improvement, and within-school achievement gaps.

Based on these rankings some schools receive special designations including Priority Schools, schools which are in the bottom 5 percent of schools included in the ranking; Focus Schools, which are the 10 percent of schools with the largest gap in student achievement between the highest performing 30 percent of students and the lowest performing 30 percent of students; and Reward Schools, which are recognized for having the highest performance, highest improvement, or for “beating the odds.” Emerald Elementary has been designated a Focus School.

“It’s just a label only. There are no (monetary) sanctions or anything like that,” said Emerald Elementary Principal Erik Mason.

Emerald Elementary was informed of their designation in July 2013. The designation was based on the results of the 2012 test, but because the tests were administered in the fall the designation is reflective of the effectiveness of the 2011 curriculum.

“With the MEAP as it is right now or as it has been, it’s whenever you put something in place … you won’t see those results until three years down the road,” said Mason.

For a school to exit Focus School status the school must narrow its achievement gap within four years to be fully removed from the cohort of schools receiving the designation in a given year.

To shrink the gap, the district has been working with a mentor provided by the Michigan Department of Education through Michigan State University’s K-12 outreach program. The mentor guides Mason and representative staff through self-assessment, building data, and the creation of an action plan.

“They come and meet with us right about once a month,” said Mason adding that closing the achievement gaps was a slow process.

The school is also required to report to the school board quarterly on the progress being made towards shrinking the achievement gap and exiting Focus School status. This report was presented at the last regular school board meeting on March 17.

“I’m really impressed with the gains we’re marking at Emerald,” said Mason.

Emerald uses the AIMSweb benchmark and progress monitoring system, which compares students to national averages, and other assessments to gauge students multiple times a year in reading and math. This allows the school to identify students that require additional individualized attention.

“The bottom 30 percent is a moving target ever year because it’s a new bottom 30 percent,” said Mason.

All students receive 90 minutes of language arts daily with an additional 30 minutes available for students who struggle. All students receive a special 30 minutes of math intervention, regardless of ability. Students are broken into groups so that even higher performing students can have access to curriculum tailored to their level.

“We have second graders working on multiplication now,” said Mason.

Emerald Elementary is also using a program called MobyMax to advance student’s math skills. The program, which is run on iPads, assesses students and creates an individualized program to practice skills at the student’s level. When students master a skill, the program focuses on a different or more advanced skill.

The results of the various programs being used by Emerald are visible across assessment tools.

“In one of our third grade classrooms 100 percent of our students are at of above benchmark in math computation, that’s your math facts, and in that same class 93 percent of students mastered or are at benchmark in math concepts and application,” said Mason, reporting performance scores recorded through AIMSweb.

Mason believes that the districts efforts are working, and notes that the school out performed other area schools in writing and reading comprehension.

“We’re seeing the fruits of our labor, and it’s great tasting fruit right now,” he said.