DETROIT FREE PRESS
If you’re a student at New Haven High School in Macomb County and you’re pulling a D or and F in a class, you’re required to attend after-school tutoring two days a week. And if you earn less than a C in some classes, chances are you’re going to have to repeat it.
It’s part of an approach at the school that’s paying off. Not only are kids doing better in their classes, but New Haven High is among just a few dozen Michigan schools to see big gains in their ACT scores, according to an analysis of data posted on the state’s www.mischooldata.org website this week.
The state’s average composite ACT score improved from 19.3 to 19.9, out of 36, in the last five years. And a look at the school and district scores across the state finds that far more schools have seen gains rather than declines. But most of the gains were small.
In New Haven, the average composite rose from 16.7 to 19.1.
“We’ve eliminated excuses,” said Principal Will Timmerman. But they’ve also increased support for kids — ensuring that kids who are struggling are getting the help they need.
“You’ve got to have staff who believe in what you’re doing and believe in the kids. Otherwise, the academic part can’t happen. The same is the case with students,” said Timmerman, who’s in his third year as principal.
Over in Oakland County, Berkley High School has seen big gains, too, from 20.3 in 2011 to 22.5 in 2015.
But make no mistake. Neither of these schools have seen improvements solely by focusing on test preparation.
“I don’t think we’d be as successful if we said, ‘We’re going to focus on the ACT, or the SAT,’" said Berkley High Principal Randy Gawel. "What we need to focus on is the kids we have and make sure they’re able to achieve the best they can. With that comes grades, test scores , other opportunities.”
The state two weeks ago released statewide average ACT results — along with statewide results for the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP), a new exam. The data posted this week are the first look at school and district level data.
Included in the data is not only the composite score, but also the percentage of Michigan students (20.2%) that are deemed college ready. That number is up from 17.3% in 2011.
The ACT has been part of the high school exam in Michigan for years, making Michigan one of 13 states where every high school junior was expected to take the exam. But that relationship comes to an end this year. In 2016, the state switches to the SAT as part of its exam.
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In order to be considered college ready, a student would have to earn an 18 on the English portion of the ACT, a 22 in math, a 22 in reading and a 23 in science.
In Detroit Public Schools, the average composite score of 16.5 didn't change much from last year's 16.4. But it's up from 15 in 2011. The percentage of college ready students, though, remains dismally low, at 3.1%.
The five-year picture "indicates solid progress," and is a testament to the work teachers, principals and other staff have done, said Michelle Zdrodowski, spokeswoman for the district.
"The district celebrates these gains as a testament to the committed and diligent work its teachers, principals and other academic staff."
Things looked worse in the Education Achievement Authority, a reform district that was designed to turn around some of the worst-performing schools in the state. The average ACT composite score has declined slightly since the district opened in 2012 — from 13.9 in 2013 to 13.5 this year. The district's college readiness rates have improve from zero to 0.1 over the same time period.
In the Berkley district, Gawel said there's an emphasis district-wide in "doing what we think is best and pursuing new ideas." There's also been a strong emphasis at the high-school level on literacy. That helps when students are taking a test like the ACT, which requires a lot of reading and reading comprehension — no matter the subject.
Gawel, who's in his sixth year as principal, said he's proud that the school's ACT results have improved.
"We want our kids to do well. We know that the ACT, the SAT, is something that helps them move on to the next level. We also know each and every kid is a heck of a lot more than a test score."
Timmerman, the New Haven High principal, said that at his school, students and staff have been guided by three goals: improving academic success, improving student opportunities, and improving the climate and culture. In January 2014, they began targeting students with D's or F's, making phone calls home to their parents and requiring they attend tutoring after school two days a week.
They also started the “C or Better” program targeted at freshmen, sophomores and juniors. Anyone not earning a C or better in their math, English, social studies or science courses is required to take those classes over.
The goal? Making sure students fully master the subject, Timmerman said. “Anyone can push through,” he said.
That tough requirement is an incentive to do well in class. Just a handful of kids have had to repeat a class.
“We’ve established that we mean business and they can do it,” Timmerman said. “We’re making sure they’re getting what they need and students are stepping up to the challenge. You raise the bar and people meet that bar.”
The top-scoring high schools in the state are littered with schools that have a focus on the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum. Here are 10 Michigan schools with the highest ACT scores:
• International Academy, Bloomfield Hills, 28.8
• International Academy of Macomb, Clinton Township, 26.9
• Washtenaw International High School, Ypsilanti, 26.5
• City Middle/High School, Grand Rapids, 26.4
• Community High School, Ann Arbor, 26
• Genesee Academy, Swartz Creek, 25.4
• Troy High School, 25.4
• Marian High School, Bloomfield Hills, 24.9
• Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy, 24.9
• Pioneer High School, Ann Arbor, 24.9
Contact Lori Higgins: 313-222-6651, firstname.lastname@example.org or @LoriAHiggins.