- Associated Press - Monday, September 5, 2016

The Detroit News. August 31, 2016

Schools are still missing the mark.

The test results released this week by the Michigan Department of Education put into focus how much work is needed to improve student learning in the state. But there is an upside. The test, in its second year, is starting to give a consistent - and honest - record of how public schools are doing.

That is data the state didn’t have for a long time. The Michigan Student Test for Educational Progress (M-STEP) replaced the four-decade-old Michigan Educational Assessment Program last spring.

The new test is better designed to chart student growth and it’s a more rigorous measure of student knowledge. That brings the M-STEP more in line with national standardized tests.

Now that the M-STEP is in place, and most of the kinks have been worked out, the state should keep it for a while. State Superintendent Brian Whiston, along with some GOP lawmakers, have indicated they aren’t completely satisfied with the revamped test and are open to changing it.

Throwing another test into the mix would only create new challenges.

For instance, the state needs to have comparable year-to-year results in place so that schools can use testing data on teacher evaluations, as they are now supposed to do. In addition, the School Reform Office is looking to crack down on poor-performing schools and possibly close the worst offenders. Yet to do that fairly, schools should be graded with the same assessment year to year.

If Michigan were to design a new test now, that would inevitably put off some of those important decisions.

Education advocates and the business community have backed the M-STEP as a quality assessment. Rather than waste energy on creating and implementing a different test, state leaders should direct their attention to helping schools - and their students - improve academically.

The Education Trust-Midwest, which pushed for the M-STEP, warns against moving to a new assessment. “Continuing to use a high-quality end-of-year assessment is essential to providing reliable information that can help improve classroom instruction, accelerate progress for students and make Michigan a top ten education state,” says Amber Arellano, executive director of the organization.

Although the 2016 results show a slight uptick, students have a long way to go. In nearly all grades and subjects tested, less than half of Michigan’s students reached proficiency.

The Education Department tried to spin the results in a positive fashion, saying students showed proficiency gains in nearly two-thirds of the grades and subjects tested. The department also released the results months ahead of last year, which is important information for schools to have ahead of the next school year. And students testing time was cut back this spring.

While the overall results are lackluster, a few of the numbers are especially concerning. Third-grade English proficiency rates dropped by about 4 percentage points to 46 percent. Early literacy is an important benchmark in a student’s academic journey.

The state’s achievement gaps among black, Hispanic and low-income students also remain high. The Education Trust-Midwest notes that less than 10 percent of African-American students are proficient in eighth-grade math, for example, compared with 33 percent of all students.

These numbers are unacceptable, and parents across the state should demand better results from their schools.

No test is going to be perfect. For now, the state should stick with the M-STEP and use it as the benchmark to help schools improve.

___

Lansing State Journal. August 31, 2016

Lansing grads are persistent.

Twelve out of 15 public universities in Michigan were dubbed dropout factories in a recent report.

And we as taxpayers and citizens should be concerned about dropouts.

The transition from high school senior to college life can leave some behind. However, efforts to help students overcome the odds and achieve post-secondary success are imperative.

At the Lansing School District, work on this is showing real progress and success is measured every student who achieves his or her education goals.

Programs like the Lansing Promise - guaranteeing college assistance to all students who graduate or get their GED in Lansing - are what make the real difference. Some 600 students have been accepted into the program since it was introduced in 2012, with 80-100 already having completed a post-secondary certificate or degree.

Even more promising is the 74 percent persistence rate of Promise Scholars at Lansing Community College, meaning 3 out of 4 students are continuing on into their second semester of college.

Urban centers such as Lansing and Detroit have higher poverty rates, and correspondingly high dropout rates. Making progress in education can be more difficult in these regions, but it’s also more important.

Lansing schools has benefitted from leaders who recognize potential challenges and have created a number of programs to help.

The H.O.P.E. scholarship program, founded in 2005-2006, offers special attention to at-risk youth beginning in sixth grade, and culminates with two free years of college at Lansing Community College for those who graduate or get their GED. The corresponding H.O.P.E. Connections fund provides transportation and lunch for students to take part in pre-test classes, college visits and more.

The Lansing Promise Scholarship program is supported by a number of community donors, including Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson who helped raise more than $1 million for the program earlier this year.

Beginning this year, the Lansing Pathway Promise will connect students with business and industry to help make real connections that will encourage post-secondary education.

This is what progress looks like. It may be slow, and too many students continue to dropout of college - or pass up a chance to go altogether. Lansing schools and the community are doing something about that, and the work they are doing now will help ensure persistence rates - and the number of students who achieve their education goals - continue to increase.

___

Port Huron Times Herald. September 2, 2016

Mandates, good or bad, still need funding.

In 2006, Michigan lawmakers passed House Bill 5240 and Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed it into law. Public Act 85 of 2006 set new standards for speed limits on state, county and local roads, and specified that speed limits could not deviate from those standards unless authorities had sound, scientific, evidence-based reasons for doing so - and the documentation to back it up.

In short, speed limits cannot be arbitrary. They have to be based on the design of the roadway, its surroundings and driver behavior.

The law seems reasonable - except for two things.

First are Anthony Owen and Ionia County District Judge Raymond Voet. Owen was stopped for driving 43 mph on a road in Ionia County that had a posted speed limit of 25 mph. The police officers who stopped him soon discovered he was doing more than exceeding the posted speed limit. Owen was charged with alcohol and firearms violations.

Voet dismissed the charges because the traffic stop was illegal. Because the village of Saranac had no reason to set the speed limit at 25 mph, and had not documented a study, the proper limit according to Public Act 85 was 55 mph. Since Owen wasn’t speeding, police had no reason to stop him.

Second, before Voet issued his ruling, the only person who seemed to know about Public Act 85 was Owen’s lawyer.

Times Herald reporter Sydney Smith has checked with local and county authorities in the Blue Water Area and it appears that none of them has set a speed limit based on the law’s criteria. None of them has made an evidence-based decision regarding the speed of travel on a road or street. And none has a report you can read justifying a speed limit.

That seems like nonfeasance.

It’s not that simple, however.

The law - basing speed limits on science, data, evidence - is a good idea. But even good ideas have to be paid for. Public Act 85 of 2006 is another mandate from the same state government that long ago broke its promise to share revenues with local government. Studying roads and resetting speed limits for every road would be costly. Our towns can’t afford it.

At the same time, the law handcuffs cities and counties to a state formula that might not be valid for every street. If the Legislature demands to own the speed limits, it should own the potholes, too.

___

Grand Haven Tribune. September 2, 2016

High school sports a year-round endeavor.

On Thursday night, prep football teams from Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Fruitport played their second game of the season.

On Tuesday - five days later - those same kids will attend the first day of classes.

These are school sports, but the connection to school is becoming hazier every year.

While the academic school year typically starts the Tuesday after Labor Day and runs into the following June, high school sports have become a year-round endeavor.

While many families get to spend their summer exploring all those places we see on the Pure Michigan billboards, families with athletes are all too often forced to cut short, or even give up, their vacations because of the demands of summer camps, offseason conditioning and practices that start as soon as the Coast Guard Festival wraps up in early August.

Back in the 1970s, prep football teams would start their seasons in mid-September and play into early November. That’s when the high school football playoffs were extremely exclusive, with only a handful of teams reaching the postseason. Because of the limited number of teams competing, the playoffs could wrap in just three weeks.

In the 1980s, games moved up a week and were played the first week of September.

Now, with the playoff system expanded (saturated?) to include every team that can scrape together six wins, the MHSAA football playoffs feature five rounds. That means the playoffs have to start in late October in order for the finals to be held at Ford Field on Thanksgiving weekend.

In order for teams to get in nine regular season games, they’re starting their seasons in late August, two weeks before the state-mandated post-Labor Day start of school.

But it’s not just football. The high school golf season is typically half over by the time school starts. Same with tennis.

At least with those sports, the reason for the early start makes more sense - weather. Both are traditionally warm-weather sports. By the time late October and early November roll around, rain, wind, cold and even snow become much more commonplace.

Still, the trend of school sports - and other extra curricular activities - starting a month or more before school starts is troubling. It makes it tough for kids to hold down part-time jobs, take family trips or - gasp - sit back and relax.

It also makes it difficult for kids who want to play multiple sports or be involved in multiple activities. There’s pressure from coaches to be “all-in” and kids who try to double-dip are often made to feel like they’re not giving enough to either commitment.

Friday nights during the fall are a thing to be cherished - fans cheering in the stands, the marching band blaring out the school fight song, and athletes crashing up and down the field.

But if current trends continue, we could be watching games in July.

___

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide