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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Michigan's overachieving school districts are State Champs

Seventy-three Michigan school districts earned top marks from Bridge Magazine as 2014 Academic
State Champs.

The winners – comprising the top 5 percent of 507 school districts across Michigan – include tiny rural districts and large metro ones, impoverished districts and the more affluent, charter
schools and traditional public schools.

Districts are ranked according to the most detailed data
analysis we’ve ever conducted, taking into account grade-level test results and student income.

Our analysis reveals small triumphs in unlikely places, such as Ashley Community Schools, a tiny rural district in Gratiot County, about halfway between Lansing and Mount Pleasant, which has succeeded despite a student population in which nine out of 10 students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Ashley is the state’s 4th-ranked district.

“This shows that we’re doing good things with kids, even if our circumstances are different from a Bloomfield Hills,” said Superintendent Tim Hughes, referring to the Oakland County district where fewer than 10 percent of students are eligible for subsidized lunch (Accounting for wealth, the Bloomfield Hills district was ranked 33rd overall and its district high school rank was No. 6).

The methodology and data analysis, independently developed by Public Sector Consultants, a public policy research firm in Lansing, takes into account the impact of poverty by analyzing how
districts across Michigan perform compared with districts of similar socioeconomic levels, an
acknowledgement of the debilitating effect that poverty typically has on student achievement.

Yes, this means some poorer districts are State Champs even though they have lower (in some
cases, dramatically lower) test scores than more affluent districts that didn’t make the cut. Why? Their students more significantly outperformed their peers, when income is considered. Are
these ratings perfect? Of course not. Other factors can also impact achievement, including the
level of pre-K education and cultural and language differences. Still, Academic State Champs, now in its fourth year, allows Bridge to go far beyond raw test scores to more fairly compare performance in schools and districts across all income levels.

Going deeper this year

Today’s school district awards are only the beginning.

Next Tuesday, Feb. 10, Bridge will release its first State Champs for individual schools, based on deeper analysis of school-level test score trends and poverty data. Bridge’s analysis this year is made possible by underwriting from Herman Miller Cares. (Donors and underwriters to the Center for Michigan and Bridge have no control over editorial content.)

Bridge is able to go deeper this year because we’re crunching student data in more grades
than ever, using test results from the state MEAP and Michigan Merit Exam and the high
school ACT. In past years, Champs was based on testing across three grades; this year, we’re
analyzing test results in eight grades.

That means we can reward overall district excellence, as we have in past years, but also
recognize leading districts at the elementary, middle and high school levels. It also means
Bridge and MLive readers can dive more deeply into our easy-to-navigate district database
to see how districts compare to districts of similar size, location, income
level and other factors.

Some notable district findings:

  • Ann Arbor schools, with more than 16,400 students, was the highest ranked large school district (more than 10,000 students). Its students succeeded in almost every grade and subject and its high school students did among the best on the ACT, both in raw numbers and adjusted for poverty.
  • In Detroit, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Education Center Academy, a K-8 charter school authorized by the Detroit public schools, was ranked No. 1 in both its elementary setting and its middle school setting. (In Michigan, charters are counted as districts, even when they are a single school). More than 90 percent of MLK students are eligible for
    subsidized lunch.
  • Okemos schools were top ranked among higher-income districts. Its high school was
    among the state’s best, with more than half of its juniors already considered college
    ready in all four ACT subjects – exceeding rates in similarly wealthy districts.

Why poverty

Why do we focus on poverty? Because numerous studies have shown that Scatter2poverty and income are some of the best predictors of student success.

So it is in Michigan. For example, look at the scatter plot at the right. It shows how Michigan schools with students at different income levels performed in 4th-grade math in 2013. As you can see,
very few low-income schools performed well, and very few higher-income schools performed poorly. It is from such analyses that researchers can predict how a school is likely to perform according to income, calculations that form the basis of Bridge’s Academic State Champs.

Enter Bridge’s database and check out our Top 10 lists.

And come back to Bridge and MLive next week for school-level rankings.

Happy exploring. And congratulations to this year's Academic State Champs districts.

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