Better teacher training, more emphasis on math and science and consistency across curriculum.
That's what is needed in Dexter in coming years to offset what Superintendent Mary Marshall says will be a decline in the number of students considered proficient in basic academic subjects.
Marshall addressed the Dexter Community Schools Board of Education at its meeting on Monday, following the release of the Michigan Department of Education's revised .
State education officials conducted an experiment in which they analyzed how 2010 scores would have fared against 2011 goals approved by the Michigan Department of Education for the MEAP and the Michigan Merit Exam. The "adjusted" scores revealed a staggering decline in the number of Michigan students considered proficient in reading, math, science and other subjects.
"Michigan's previous cut scores for these state tests were set at a very basic level. The belief is that raising the cut scores will give Michigan families a better sense of whether students are adequately ready for the next step in their education," Marshall said.
Under the old test, students could have previously answered as few as 40 percent of the questions correct to be considered proficient. Under new guidelines, 65 percent or more of the questions must be answered correctly.
Marshall said one of the largest areas of concern is among third and fourth grade students
Under the old cut scores, 96 percent of Dexter third grade students taking the MEAP in 2010 were proficient. With the new scores, only 89 percent would be considered proficient. In math, 97 percent of third grade students under the old scores were proficient, while 39 percent under the new scores would be proficient.
"We're not alone. This is true for most schools across the state," Marshall said.
Historically, compared to other schools throughout Washtenaw County, Dexter's scores remain in the top 3 percent, along with Saline, Ann Arbor and Chelsea, she said.
Board Vice President Michael Wendorf said he believes third grade math is a critical area of focus.
"As a math tutor, I've seen that there are so many different learning styles which can cause kids to easily fall behind in the classroom and start to become frustrated. Once they get that individual attention that helps them define strategies to conquer numbers, they are right back with the rest of the class," he said. "Different kids have different learning styles and you have to have the time to sit down and work with them on a one-on-one basis."
Marshall said the district is in the process of reviewing its math curriculum across the board.
"Third grade math definitely has our attention. We believe it's more of a curriculum and fidelity issue. We need to get everyone teaching the same thing," she said.
Marshall said the district is also developing learning targets to clarify student expectations in all grade levels.
"We are in the process of of analyzing our curriculum to respond to this more challenging level of test scoring and we will be looking at any professional development that is needed to enhance staff training," Marshall said.
In addition to the MME and MEAP tests, Marshall said school officials also employ several other measures to insure academic progress including national assessment tools such as the Scholastic Reading Inventory, Scholastic Math Inventory and the ACT test.
"The MME and MEAP are good tools that provide us data on how a particular student is performing on the day of the test, but we rely on other assessments as well to determine student success," Marshall said.