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Students making gains under first-of-a-kind charter; school leaders set bigger goals

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

On average, students under the state’s first fully privatized public school district are learning at a faster rate than under the old system. That’s according to data released Monday night by the charter company running the Muskegon Heights district.

Muskegon Heights schools’ emergency manager set up the charter systemin the summer of 2012, when the existing district couldn’t afford to open. Highland Park Public Schools is under a similar arrangement.

When Mosaica Education Inc. set up last fall, Muskegon Heights students tested between one and three grade levels behind where they should be. Some high school students were as far as five years behind.

But data show elementary and middle school students, on average, learned a little more than one year’s worth in math and reading in seven months last school year.  

MHPSA Superintendent Alena Zachery-Ross says they’re celebrating any gains in student success. But while there were improvements, Muskegon Heights students tested below goals the school board set.

“I think I won’t be happy until I’m seeing all of our students increasing student achievement and all of our students at grade level eventually,” Zachery-Ross said.

Some grade levels, particularly students in 6th and 7th grade, showed huge improvements. But 2nd through 4th graders struggled more. Zachery-Ross said they'd post the data online soon.

High schools students aren’t tracked the same as K-8. Composite ACT scores were at 13.5. The goal is eventually to get those students' scores to 18. And because the state’s MEAP test in the fall covers material from the previous school year, MHPSA officials are viewing those scores as the result of the previous district. They’ll use them as a baseline for improvement during this fall’s MEAP test.

“That told us from this baseline data that we’re in the right direction but it challenged us to set some goals,” Zachery-Ross said.

The school board is expected to finalize goals for this school year next month.

The administration and the board want MHPSA to become the top-performing district in Michigan within five years.

“I think it is realistic,” Zachery-Ross said. “It is an aggressive goal but if you’re the leaders of a school district and you’re not trying to be working towards being the highest performing in your state, shame on you. Our expectation when we walk in is to give our students the very best and the very best is to be the top.”

Currently, Muskegon Heights schools are in the bottom 10% of the state’s top-to-bottom performance list. Muskegon Heights High School ranks in the bottom 3%, the middle school in the bottom 8% and Edgewood Elementary in the bottom 4%.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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