New state education rules stress accountability for schools, parents

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Capital News Service
LANSING — When Baldwin Elementary School pupils studied the history of Northern Michigan, they didn’t just open books.
The Lake County fourth-graders traveled to Mackinac Island and the Soo Locks to see, hear and feel history.
Principal Patrick Creagan is helping his teachers stay creative as state accreditation and federal programs change standards in Michigan.
Other schools don’t find much of a change necessary.
“Education YES! – A Yardstick for Excellent Schools” is the new set of accreditation standards for Michigan’s public schools. Starting this school year, schools are held accountable for the success of every student. The State Board of Education approved the new system in March.
No Child Left Behind, a federal program that coincides with Education YES!, also holds schools accountable and focuses on local control and parental involvement. The Michigan Educational Assessment Program test will be implemented for all grades three to eight. Currently, pupils take the test in fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth and high school grades.
The MEAP test covers math, reading, writing, science and social studies skills Michigan students are expected to know.
Creagan said a list of assessments is used to spark creativity, examples of which come from Mason-Lake Intermediate School District and Big Rapids Public Schools.
“These could adjust as teachers see what works with teaching styles and learning styles of students,” Creagan said. “Instead of just reading about the state, we do projects.”
One of those is the trip to Mackinac Island and Sault Ste. Marie. Pupils raise money for the trip and conduct research beforehand, including what early settlers needed to survive, Creagan said.
“The kids really get into it; they sing state songs on the bus that I’ve never heard of,” he said. “The kids are asking the questions at the Fort (Mackinac). I think they already know the answers, but they want to test the people who work there.”
Tom Watkins, state superintendent of public instruction, wants Education YES! not to be based only on the MEAP test, but also to include professional development, parental and community involvement, and attendance and drop-out rates. One goal of the program is to match state standards to local curriculum and test students accordingly.
“Our students and teachers are worth more than one test,” Watkins said. “Accreditation is still 67 percent based on MEAP, but we need to make sure MEAP is doing what it’s supposed to.”
To do that, Watkins said, teachers need more timely feedback. For instance, having students take the test online and getting results back immediately, he said. Watkins hopes to use MEAP more as an educational tool instead of the real estate tool he said it has become, as many parents who move their families check MEAP scores in surrounding school districts.
At Ludington’s Lakeview and South Hamlin Elementary schools, Principal Michael Ritter is just beginning to talk about the linked state and federal programs with other administrators in the district. So far, he doesn’t find much change needed.
“We test students all the time,” Ritter said. “But we’re not going to be spending time preparing them; we’re going to be teaching the curriculum.”
In addition to the MEAP tests, Ritter’s students also take the Terra Nova Basic Battery, a national standardized test that evaluates students’ progress in math and reading. In the past, only third- and sixth-graders took the test, but now even lower elementary pupils are taking it; kindergartners took it last year.
“It helps us determine what level our students are on,” Ritter said. “It’s a way to evaluate student progress, and I think all schools are looking for school improvement.
“We want to spend our time teaching, but test results are important for schools.”
Mason-Lake ISD Superintendent Jeanne Oakes works with all nine school districts in the area on school improvement, which has been refocused with the new programs.
“It’s not so much that our test scores are high,” she said. “If we have kids in the 80th percentile, what about the 20 percent? With No Child Left Behind, it’s no child.
“We believe all children can learn, so what do we do for the children who aren’t learning?”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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