KPS M-STEP Scores Improve, Graduation Rates Rise
Dr. Michael Rice Column
Good news! As we begin a new school year, we are proud to announce that the Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) graduated more students this year than any year in the Promise era: 648 students. In addition to very large graduating classes at Kalamazoo Central and Loy Norrix—292 and 274 students, respectively—we also graduated the second largest graduating class in Phoenix history: 68 students. Finally, our new, small, hybrid high school— the Kalamazoo Innovative Learning Program—graduated 14 students, with dozens more earning high school credits.
While the state has yet to announce high school graduation rates for 2017—typically, the state releases the rates in the winter, after extensive review—we are optimistic that our rates will continue to rise when the state announces them this winter.
The good news, though, is not limited to high school g r a d u a t e s. It extends to improvement on the state’s M - S T E P reading and math tests, given last spring, whose results the state released on Aug. 29.
M-STEP is a challenging series of tests, one that came out of a national movement to create greater rigor in curriculum across the country. In fact, statewide, in only one grade in only one subject (grade 5 English language arts) did the state’s students exceed 50 percent at or above proficiency. In all other grades in both English language arts and math, the state’s percentage of students at or above proficiency was between 34 and 44 percent.
That said, progress is progress. Comparing spring 2016 and spring 2017 M-STEP English language arts (reading) results, KPS raised its performance in 5 of 6 grades tested: in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8. Performance declined in only one grade: grade 7. By contrast, the state had lower performance in 5 of 6 grades: all but grade 5.
When measured by free and reduced-price lunch percentage, KPS is approximately 50 percent poorer than the state as a whole. Test results—particularly standardized or state test results—are often highly correlated with socioeconomic status. All else being equal, schools with higher concentrations of middleclass students tend to outperform schools with higher concentrations of working-class and poor students.
While the state’s results on M-STEP exceed the district’s, the gap between the state and KPS has begun to narrow. Indeed, in all but grade 7, KPS narrowed the gap with the state. KPS narrowed the gap by 3 percentage points (30 percent) in grade 3, 3 percentage points (33 percent) in grade 4, 6 percentage points (50 percent) in grade 5, 1 percentage point (8 percent) in grade 6, and 5 percentage points (36 percent) in grade 8.
Comparing spring 2016 and spring 2017 M-STEP math results, KPS again raised its performance in 5 of 6 grades, as did the state. However, KPS narrowed the gap with the state in all six grades tested. KPS reduced the gap by 4 percentage points (33 percent) in grade 3, 2 percentage points (18 percent) in grade 4, 1 percentage point (11 percent) in grade 5, 2 percentage points (17 percent) in grade 6, 1 percentage point (7 percent) in grade 7, and 1 percentage point (8 percent) in grade 8.
We certainly have more work to do as a district and as individual schools, but so too does the state as a whole. Importantly, though, we are making progress, not simply on M-STEP, but on other measures, including graduation rates, as well. The greater rigor is a challenge for teachers and students, administrators and support staff, parents and others in the community, but collectively we are rising to the greater challenge. It’s a positive way to begin 2017-18.