Head of the Class

Houghton High leads the way on state's standardized tests

The Daily Mining Gazette
Nov. 7, 2003; pp 1,8A

HOUGHTON — Copper Country high school students who graduated last spring generally performed better on standardized tests than their counterparts around the state, even though scores overall were down.

Leading the pack is Houghton High School, whose students outpaced the state average and every other Copper Country high school in the five subjects tested (see graphic, page 8A). Results from the Michigan Education Assessment Program tests, known as the MEAP, were released this week.

Houghton-Portage Township Superintendent Dennis Harbour said the results confirm that the district offers a quality education.

“Our teachers have done an outstanding job,” Harbour said.

Six of 12 Copper Country high schools exceeded the state average for proficiency in all five subjects tested. Scoring is divided into four categories — exceeding Michigan standards, meeting Michigan standards, basic and apprentice. One district — Ontonagon — scored below state averages in every category.

Overall, students did well in math and reading. In math, only Ontonagon failed to exceed the state average for proficiency.

Several parents waiting for teacher conferences Thursday night at Houghton High School were pleased with the results, but some had reservations about the emphasis placed on MEAP testing.

“We’re proud of our students but what’s being measured here?” asked Paige Van Pelt of Ripley, who has a child in 10th grade. She said there is too much emphasis on standardized testing to the detriment of instructional time.

David Nitz, of Houghton, said testing is appropriate.

“Standardized tests have their place as long as they’re a part of a broader scale of measurements,” he said.

Houghton's top scores are no fluke. The class of 2002 won the Governor's Cup in the state class C division last year, with 92 out of 114 students qualifying for $2,500 Merit Award scholarships.

Statewide, there will be fewer Merit Award scholarships this year because high school scores on reading, writing and math are down, The Associated Press reports. Science and social studies scores showed increases. Results in the Copper Country were similar.

At Ontonagon, Superintendent David Ruhman said many factors could have affected student performance on the MEAP.

"For us, it's a reflection of last year's group, and I don't think it reflects a trend for the school," Ruhman said.

The class of 2003 had fewer students -- 39 -- than in recent years, he said, noting that when classes are smaller, individual performance have a greater impact on overall percentages. This year, the school has 69 seniors, du largely to the closure of neighboring White Pine High School.

Ruhman added that MEAP scores also reflect teacher priorities.

"Our teachers feel like this is more of a test of what we teach, rather than what the students know," Ruhman said.

This is the first year high schools will receive yearly progress reporters under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. All of the high schools in the Copper Country easily surpassed requirements that 33 percent of students are proficient in math and 42 percent in reading.

Under the federal progress rules, schools must have an 80 percent graduation rate and at least 95 percent of students taking the tests.

Although Jeffers High School students surpassed the state average in all five subjects, Adams Township school board President Mark Kilpela has mixed emotions about the MEAP.

"It's fine to do well, but I think our students do well every year," Kilpela said.

He said it's difficult to identify trends because the tests have changed over the years.

"It's a moving target," Kilpela said. "I don't think it fully tests student achievement."

However, Harbour said Houghton teachers and other have told him that the MEAP is a good test.

"They seem to indicate that it's a reasonable measurement," he said.

The future of MEAP is unclear, however. Long delays in scoring for elementary and middle school students and nearly 3,000 lost tests have state officials fuming.

Lawmakers and Gov. Jennifer Granholm have said they will consider alternatives to the MEAP, but that probably won't happen soon. Granholm last month issued an order moving administration of the test back to the Department of Education from the Department of Treasury.

On the Net:
Michigan School Info. (Including MEAP results),