ESCANABA - The recent release of the Michigan Department of Education's Top-to-Bottom ranking not only ranked schools on their performance, but designated several as Reward Schools, Focus Schools, or Priority Schools - including a few locally in Delta, Menominee, and Schoolcraft counties.
In Delta County, Escanaba Area Public High School was the only one in the Delta-Schoolcraft ISD recognized as a Reward School, a distinction it also received in 2012. Reward Schools are based on the Top-to-Bottom ranking methodology, which includes data from achievement, improvement, and achievement gaps in standardized scores, according to the MDE website.
Reward Schools include the top 5 percent of schools in the annual ranking. However, any school designated as a "Beating the Odds" school - that is, those who outperform schools with similar risk factors and demographic makeup; those with an 85 percent proficiency in the current and previous school year while also having a positive percent proficient slope as determined by the Accountability Scorecard in each applicable subject area; or those in the top 5 percent on the improvement metric in the ranking, are also included.
"In our case, we got it because of improvement, because we scored very high in the Top-to-Bottom list," said Escanaba High School Principal Doug Leisenring. "We were decent last year...but we jumped up even higher than they expected, so because we we had one of the biggest improvements in the state of Michigan, then we received that recognition again."
Some of the benefits of being named a Reward School include flexibility on how to spend certain grant funding and an invitation to present at the State of Michigan School Improvement Conference.
"It's always a great opportunity because not only do you get to collaborate with people on what you've done, but you get to hear what other schools have done so it's a great professional development opportunity," said Leisenring.
Leisenring credits the efforts of EHS teachers for the recognition, as they have worked to identify student strengths and weaknesses in the core subject areas, while building their instruction and interventions to help students address these weaknesses. In doing so, teachers have become more collaborative, agreeing on similar assessments and interventions to help increase student achievement.
"I can't praise the teachers enough for what they've done," said Leisenring. "I'm proud of some of the initiatives I've led in this building, but really this is a teacher-driven award and we wouldn't have gotten this award without the efforts of our teachers."
In Menominee County, Stephenson Elementary School, Stephenson High School, and the entire district of North Central Area Schools also received Reward School status.
North Central Area Junior and Senior High School ranked the highest in the U.P. in terms of combined middle and high schools, while North Central Elementary ranked second in the U.P. of all elementary schools, according to North Central Superintendent Don Palmer.
"It's really amazing to know that our school, with such a limited budget, has everything working the way we want it to work," he said.
Palmer also credits the widespread support the district has received.
"We have excellent students and good community and parent support behind those students and an equally top-notch staff..." he said, while also crediting the district's school board. "The school board supports the vision of the district and they know that our teachers are working so very hard to make the successes that they've earned."
In Schoolcraft County, Manistique's Emerald Elementary School has been designated a Focus School by the MDE. Focus Schools are those with the largest achievement gaps, defined as the difference between the average scale score for the top 30 percent of students and the bottom 30 percent of students.
"They factored in, according to each school, how large the gap is between the two," explained Emerald Elementary Principal Erik Mason. "At Emerald Elementary we had a gap in our science, math, social studies, and writing, but we did not have a gap in our reading scores."
Mason noted the Focus School designation is based on testing data from last October, which tests students on the curriculum from the year prior.
However, Mason said the school has recently taken on several initiatives to improve student performance.
The elementary school has implemented one-to-one iPad instruction for all third-graders and has incorporated 30-minute math and reading intervention blocks in the school day that go beyond actual instruction for students who need extra attention.
In math, the school has also implemented the MobyMax online individual math instruction resource.
This coming year they will continue to work in these areas while increasing writing strategy during the school day and providing additional strategies for reading and comprehending informational texts, particularly in science and social studies.
The school has already improved from last year, moving from the 11th percentile to the 35th percentile in the Top-to-Bottom ranking; it has also improved on the MDE's color-coded overall school status from a "yellow" to "lime."
"We're making huge improvements, we're making great gains, and before long we'll be there," said Mason, noting the move from a "yellow" to "lime" school is a step in the right direction.
For a full list of Reward, Focus, and Priority schools, or to view the complete list of the Top-to-Bottom rankings, visit www.michigan.gov/mde.