By BOB OLIVER
DEARBORN — Edsel Ford High School made enough academic improvements from 2013 to 2014 to remove itself from the state’s “Priority List” of schools, but administrators say that more work needs to be done to keep moving in the right direction.
The Dearborn Public Schools received the news when the Michigan Department of Education released its “Top-to-Bottom” rankings last week.
A priority school is one that ranks in the bottom 5 percent of the state in terms of academic achievement. The MDE takes a school’s Michigan Merit Examination achievement, improvement and achievement gap as well as graduation rate and improvement and determines a percentile rank for each school, which is called a “z score.”
EFHS’s overall z score dropped from a 79.1 in 2010 to 0 in 2013, causing the school to fall into the bottom 1 percent in the state in terms of achievement rankings.
In the last academic year, the school jumped from the bottom 1 percent to 29 percent and dumped the “priority” label, though the school has to continue to follow the four-year transformation plan it established with the state last fall after being put on the list of under-performing schools.
DPS Director of Compensatory Education and School Improvement Kathleen McBroom said the school improved by 11 percentage points in writing, 10 points in reading, 6 points in social studies and 4 points in both math and science in the 2013-14 academic year.
“This was a tremendous turnaround in one year,” McBroom said. “The students and teachers took the priority status very, very seriously and immediately went to work against it.”
EFHS Principal Scott Casebolt said being off the priority list was good, but that the school is not resting on last year’s results.
“This is not the end of the road, there’s a lot of work that still has to be done,” Casebolt said. “The students, staff and my administration team are all motivated to come back and do it again and keep moving in a positive direction. We’ve been working hard throughout the summer and we’re all excited about coming back this year. We’re going to keep building on last year.”
He attributed a lot of the student success to the school’s emphasis on reading over the last year.
“We didn’t just highlight course materials for reading, but also high interest reading for students and it really makes a difference and carries over into the academic reading,” Casebolt said. “Many kids have indicated to us that they have fallen back in love with reading, something they lost over time because they felt that everything they read had to be school-related.”
Casebolt thanked staff, students and parents for their efforts in helping pull up the school rankings for the state.
“We’re a team and everybody pulled together to improve our scores,” Casebolt said. “If we keep doing the rights things we’ll keep improving.”
McBroom said that the district will spend the first semester of the upcoming school year evaluating what helped turn around the scores the most and what initiatives taken could be improved and present it to the administration as soon as it’s complete.
“We don’t want to do anything that would de-rail the success that has been achieved so far,” McBroom said. “We want to sustain and increase the success from last year so we will evaluate the process.”
Because EFHS was a priority school, the district had to decide to implement one of four reform/redesign models required by the state. The choices were transformation (replace the principal), turnaround (principal and 50 percent of staff replaced), closure (school is closed and students are transferred elsewhere) and restart (school is closed and reopened as a public school academy).
The district chose the transformation model and throughout the year received updates from EFHS on progress made.
The district also extended the school day at EFHS by one hour, to 3:15 p.m., to allow extra learning time for students.
The extra hour is not mandatory for all students and administrators have said the additional time allows struggling students an opportunity for extra learning time while giving students proficient in their studies an extra hour to attend classes they previously didn’t have time to take.
Schools that are listed as priority schools that do not bring up their scores enough to be removed from the list in two years have their operations taken over by the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan.
The EAA is a new statewide school system that can assume operations of priority schools if they do not improve their Top-to-Bottom ranking and student performance.
The district also had seven schools labeled as “reward schools”, or schools that finished in the top 5 percent across the state and six “focus” schools, or schools that have the largest gap between the top 30 percent and bottom 30 percent in terms of academic achievements.
The reward schools were Linbergh Elementary, Henry Ford Early college, Howard Elementary, Howe Trainable Center and Montessori, Iris Becker Elementary, Maples Elementary and McCollough Elementary.
The focus schools were Dearborn High, Haigh Elementary, Nowlin Elementary, Salina Elementary, Salina Intermediate and William Ford Elementary.
Howe, Lowrey and Woodworth elementary schools were focus schools last year but worked their way off of this year’s list.
(Bob Oliver can be reached at [email protected].)