A look at how Farmington Public Schools students would perform under new "cut", or passing, scores on standardized tests have officials looking at different ways to teach a new generation of learners.
Kristin Gekiere, the district's director of assessment and school improvement, said Michigan is only the third state in the country to move to more rigorous scoring, which was approved by the state School Board in September.
The cut scores – the passing scores that distinguish between whether a student is advanced, proficient, partially proficient or not proficient in certain subjects - require students to get roughly 65 percent of the answers correct to “pass” the state test, instead of only 39 percent, which was the previous benchmark.
Going from having among the lowest proficiency cut scores in the nation to being among the highest is a jarring move, and school districts across the state – even the highest performing – are all in the same boat, Supt. Susan Zurvalec said.
"Imagine if you've taken a test two years ago, and you pass the test with an A, and the school district went back and decided no, an A isn't equal to 90 percent ... we're going to raise that to 100 percent, and now we're going to adjust your grades on your transcript retroactively," Zurvalec said. "That's putting it in layman's terms."
In Farmington, MEAP proficiency for 3rd through 8th graders in reading did not drop dramatically, nor did MME reading proficiency among 11th graders. But in math, and particularly in science, percentages plummeted as much as 70 points. Tougher standards in those areas reflect the higher cut scores for ACT college readiness benchmarks, Gekiere said. For instance, the English ACT cut score is 18; science is 24.
The district is looking at its revised "grades" as a way to determine what needs to be done to ensure all Farmington students are ready for post-secondary education, Zurvalec said, adding, "We know how to do it ... and it requires support for our teachers and training."
To that end, the district is partnering with Oakland Intermediate School District on the development of new curriculum.
"As a county, we committed that we were going to support all of us as we did this together," Gekiere said. The best teachers from across the county will work on the curriculum changes, she added. "We're pooling our efforts and our brain trust."
Basically, the idea is to move to a new way of teaching. Where students once memorized periodic tables, for instance, they will learn how to be successful in applying what they've learned. Rote memory takes a back seat to "synthesizing and analyzing" information, Gekiere said. "We are in a different world. These are the video kids. These are the MTV kids. We have to think about how we teach them," she added.
Officials are also looking at new Common Core State Standards, a nation-wide initiative to create standards that "define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs", adopted in Michigan in June of 2010.
Those take effect, along with a whole new set of assessments, in 2013-2014, Gekiere said. The country also has two more years left to reach standards set by the national "No Child Left Behind" legislation, which requires 100 percent of students to be proficient by state measures. In light of the new and tougher standards, Michigan officials applied for a NCLB waiver; however, it was denied, Gekiere said.
Gekiere and Zurvalec emphasized that the MEAP and MME assessments, as well as ACT scores, should not be used to "judge" students, but rather to help the district see where it needs to provide the support students need to be successful, no matter what path they pursue after graduation.