The MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) scores topped the agenda at the Harbor Springs Board of Education meeting on Monday, March 11. Board members listened to Blackbird and Shay Elementary principal, Nathan Fairbanks, explain the district's response to recently released scores that showed decline in several areas.
Fairbanks compared the scores to local Intermediate School District averages, as well as state averages, showing that while some grade levels dropped in specific content areas like math, most of the district still tested at well-above state average.
He noted the best uptick was in eighth grade science.
"That's a point of pride for the middle school," Fairbanks said. "Our students tested at 38-percent proficient, compared to the state average, which is only 16-percent."
Superintendent Mark Tompkins noted that the district's biggest leap in scores coincided with an investment for those teachers to be trained in Universal Design for Learning. He said it may be something to keep in mind, to look at where the district is making investments in teaching and learning, and how those investments are paying off.
The biggest drop-- in fourth grade writing-- has raised red flags, the principal noted.
The district went from a score of 59.1-percent in writing in 2011 to only 38.2-percent in 2012. This is below the state average of 47-percent.
"We're assessing the data now to figure out if the scores dropped because of this specific cohort of kids, or a change in curriculum, or if something was being tested our students had not yet covered," Fairbanks told board members.
He stressed that it is important to remember the MEAP test, which is taken in October, is more a reflection of the previous year's curriculum. Also, he added, it is "one test, taken over one or two days."
"It's just a snapshot," he said. "What we, as a district, will try and do is triangulate that data to get a broader idea, as an organization, on how our students are faring year to year."
Fairbanks noted report cards, teacher/parent conferences, and other assessment tools, in combination with the MEAP, are a better indicator for observing if students are struggling with a particular concept.
That being said, Fairbanks said the staff is looking at fundamentals like math, and examining if there is a trend in basic skill areas that may need additional reinforcing, as the district's scores do seem to get lower as the higher-level content is introduced to the test. He said the elementary school is also moving toward a "workshop" model for writing. The workshop model is an ISD initiative, and many teachers have already been trained in it, he added.
Fairbanks said in subjects like social studies and science, the key may be to look at a more cross-curricular approach. He said ideas like creating a science resource room and developing a stronger base of project-based learning are at the top of the list.
Superintendent Mark Tompkins said one thing the community should understand is that while the MEAP scores can-- and should-- be improved upon, the only true "high stakes test" for students-- the ACT for college entrance-- has yielded fantastic results year after year.
"I think our last round of ACT scores came in at an average of 22.4 (a perfect score is 36), which is incredible and significantly higher than the ISD's average. That's the test that counts the most, and by the time our students take it, they are obviously prepared," Tompkins said.
Board member Tim Davis agreed, adding that it is also the only test that hasn't changed in the last few years.
"All of the changes that have been handed down to districts, in the form of new requirements, changes in what the MEAP covers, and the common core, make it a lot harder to decipher exactly what's going on. But the ACT has been constant-- the only constant in testing-- and our students are doing impressively well on it. We need to keep that in mind."
"Looking at all the different things happening around us, as well as configurations of students because we have a fairly low sample size here, it is important to take things like MEAP scores at face value," Fairbanks said. "What we can do is look for trends, set standards, and say 'this is what we're working toward.'"