Helping U.P. Schools Make the Grade

Carl Wozniak (U.P. Center for Educational Development) spent part of his summer trying to help small public schools in Michigan get report-card grades as required by the “No Child Left Behind” legislation. His effort resulted in a new methodology to solve the problem that has been approved by the state school board and the federal government.


“No Child Left Behind” requires that all schools be given grades to show the school’s yearly progress. But the law also requires that states set a minimum number of students – 30 in Michigan – in order to guarantee statistical validity. What the lawmakers didn’t realize was that as many as 118 Michigan schools have fewer than 30 students and, consequently, did not receive school grades. Twenty-eight of these schools are in the Upper Peninsula.


“The big thing about this is there were a lot of schools out there that went through all the hoops, but weren’t rewarded for their efforts,” Wozniak said. “The students did the testing and the schools provided all the required information to the state, but the state couldn’t provide feedback because the schools were too small.”


As a result, those institutions were not able to tell the public and parents how well the students and the school performed, nor were they held to the same accountability as larger schools. When the federal government recognized this problem, Wozniak was already working on a solution. Research led him to believe that confidence interval calculations could be used to determine a small school’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), as it has been used in several other states. The Michigan School Board had previously looked at this method, but declined to use it because they saw it as a “watering down” of state standards.


“Confidence intervals and levels are commonly used and are familiar to anyone who hears the latest Gallup poll on CNN stating, for example, that Bush leads Kerry by four points, plus or minus 3 points,” Wozniak said. “The same statistical process can be used to determine accurate scores for small schools.”


Wozniak ended up modifying the confidence interval calculation by suggesting a sliding scale. This helped avoid some of the negative considerations, such as the perceived lowering of standards and unfairness that the calculation was associated with, Wozniak said. He presented his proposal to the state in early August.


“I presented it in a slightly different light,” Wozniak said. “The state modified my suggestion a bit and developed a new and unique method to provide these schools with a grade for their 2004 scores. It’s not perfect, but now we’ve got another year to work on a better model.”



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Updated: October 8, 2004