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Kingsley, Benzie, Frankfort Named Academic Champs

Kingsley, Benzie, Frankfort Named Academic Champs

February 4, 2015
Kingsley, Benzie, Frankfort Named Academic Champs

Three northern Michigan school districts are among the top 25 “overachieving” districts in the state academically, according to a report released Tuesday by Bridge Magazine.

The ranking of Academic State Champs – now in its fourth year – utilizes statewide testing and poverty data to gauge how well school districts and charters are performing compared with other schools of the same income level. Of 507 Michigan districts ranked, three locally made the top 25: Benzie County Central Schools (#22), Frankfort-Elberta Area Schools (#10) and Kingsley Area Schools (#3).

“We take great pride in educating our kids, and hopefully everyone realizes what a tremendous award this is,” says Kingsley Area Schools Superintendent Keith Smith. “It’s great we have such wonderful schools to compete with. It’s a friendly competition – and the kids come out the winners.”

Rather than ranking schools solely based on test scores – a system critics say unfairly favors wealthy districts, given the strong correlation between test scores and socioeconomic status – Bridge Magazine’s report controls for the percentage of a district’s student population eligible for free or reduced lunch due to income. It then charts which schools most dramatically over or underperform academically based on the expectations associated with their poverty level. The result “isn’t a measure of achievement – it’s a measure of overachievement,” explains the magazine.

For example, at Kingsley Area Schools, 54.5 percent of the district’s 1,384 students in the 2013-14 school year were considered low-income. Yet Kingsley’s third grade students tested at nearly identical math and reading proficiency levels as those in Bloomfield Hills Schools, one of the wealthiest school districts in the state with only 9.5 percent of students considered low-income. Bloomfield came in at #33 on the list.

Even as test scores begin to diverge between those districts in older grades, Kingsley dramatically “exceeds expectations” in proficiency testing up through high school compared with other districts of similar income levels. Explains Smith: “We haven’t figured out as a country how to educate some of our neediest kids. What this (report) shows is our educators up here are doing a great job educating some of those harder-to-reach kids.”

Benzie County Central Schools Superintendent Dave Micinski agrees. With 58.6 percent of Benzie’s 1,633 students considered low-income in 2013-14, the district “certainly has a higher than average free and reduced lunch rate,” Micinski says. “But even though we may not have the same resources (as other districts), we have a level of pride and commitment…our community understands the importance of an outstanding education.”

The report provides some takeaways for other area districts as well. Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) landed in the middle of the pack, coming in at 229 of 507 districts. With nearly 10,000 students, TCAPS is significantly larger than other area school systems – but also has the advantage of a lower poverty rate, at 42.7 percent.

"When I dig deeper into the data, in almost every area we’re exceeding expectations, but the math scores leave something to be desired,” TCAPS Superintendent Paul Soma tells The Ticker (TCAPS scored 39 percent in third grade math proficiency compared to Kingsley’s 66 percent, and 34 percent in eleventh grade math proficiency compared to Kingsley’s 45 percent). “We’re taking a serious look at our math delivery at the elementary level to see what improvements we can make. We're never satisfied staying where we are...and this data points us in the direction we need to focus on."

Bridge Magazine will release rankings for more than 32,000 individual schools next week. A searchable database available now allows residents to see how each school district fared in the rankings.

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