Focused improvement

Crossroads dissects MEAP results to focus on specific skills at each grade level

This is the first installment in a six-part series examining 2012 MEAP scores and trends for each district in the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District.

IMPROVING SKILLS: Crossroads Charter Academy students complete class work on Thursday. The district focuses on different skills each year that need improvement according to MEAP results. CCA students improved in eight of 18 areas covered on the MEAP compared to last year’s scores. (Pioneer photos/Lauren Fitch)

BIG RAPIDS – Even as Crossroads Charter Academy superintendent Lynn Gullekson poured over page after page of MEAP results – going question by question to see which skills were tested and how many of his students answered correctly – he still wished there was more data offered in the 2012 MEAP results.

“Because we don’t get to see the question (asked on the test), we don’t get to say ‘What was it about that question that so many students chose that wrong answer?’” he said. “I think it would be more helpful to us as educators to be able to look at the results and say ‘This inference skill is where we need to focus,’ but we don’t know that because we don’t know the difference between this question and this question that was testing the same skill. We could do more with results if we had just a little more information.”

Crossroads breaks down MEAP results to look at each specific skill covered on the test and how each student performs from year to year. Students take the MEAP every October and are tested on reading and math in third through eighth grade, on writing in fourth and seventh grade, on science in fifth and eighth grade and on social studies in sixth and ninth grade.

Results come back as a list of the different skills covered in each question of each portion of the test, and the percentage of students who chose each multiple choice option for each question is included. Gullekson and his administrators use that data to pinpoint specific skills to focus on in the upcoming school year.

However, there is no guarantee those same skills will show up on the MEAP next year.

Gullekson gave the example of sixth-grade math, where the district showed a weakness in statistics in the 2011 MEAP results. Teachers developed different strategies to help students understand that principle last year – but this year’s MEAP didn’t have one statistics question on the sixth-grade test.

“I just couldn’t believe it when I got to (the math results),” he said. “It’s very frustrating. I would just like to know if we did better on the areas we were focusing on. One of the things we need to do is devise our own assessments to get to that information.”

The table shows the percentage of students deemed proficient at each grade level in the subjects tested on the 2012 MEAP. Red numbers indicated a lower proficiency rate than 2011, and black numbers indicate a stable or increased proficiency rate compared to 2011. (Pioneer graphics)

Compared to the 2011 results, CCA showed improvement in eight of the 18 subject areas and grade levels covered on the MEAP. The greatest gains were made in seventh-grade math, where the proficiency rate jumped by 20 percentage points. Gullekson said he also was proud of the third-grade math results. The overall proficiency level in third-grade math dropped from last year, but Gullekson noted improvement in number sense and fraction skills, which was something teachers and students focused on the year before.

“We have to make sure that as we’re working on those areas we don’t let other areas decrease,” he said.

Crossroads exceeded the state average proficiency levels in five of the 18 subject areas and grade levels tested on the MEAP. Relative to other districts in the Mecosta-Osceola School District, it had the highest reading proficiency rate (79 percent in sixth grade) and highest science proficiency rate (14 percent in fifth grade). Crossroads recorded the lowest proficiency rate in the MOISD in writing, with 16 percent in fourth grade.

Based on weak points in the 2012 results, CCA staff will focus on improving elementary students’ reading skills with informational text, such as textbook excerpts. They also focus on consistency in helping students improve their writing skills by using the same terminology to describe the writing process at different grade levels.

Crossroads’ proficiency rate fell the most in eighth-grade science, dropping by 13 percentage points. Gullekson said based on that group of students’ past performance, the lower scores are not uncharacteristic.

“Not that we don’t take it seriously that our science scores are down, but that grade level (has struggled in the past),” he said “We’re trying to do the best we can with the population we have. One of the challenges is trying to figure out the trend.”

Tracking trends in MEAP performance from year to year or by cohort is especially challenging at Crossroads because of the high turnover rate in students. As a charter school with no geographical district, students come and go from the school district at a higher rate than others.

The graph shows the five-year trend in math proficiency rates of Crossroads Charter Academy students by grade level. Because of the high student turnover rate at Crossroads, it is difficult for the district to track long-term trends in test data. Instead, administrators identify specific skills at each grade level to focus on each year.

For example, 40 percent of this year’s fourth-grade class at Crossroads is made up of different students than were in the “cohort” last year, Gullekson said. That turnover occurred from February to October 2012, which means new students received five months of instruction at Crossroads before taking the MEAP.

Gullekson emphasized he does not intend to say new students bring down the district’s MEAP scores, rather that it makes it difficult to measure the effectiveness of the schools’ teachers and instruction methods.

“We don’t know how the kids who left did. The kids who came in, we know how they did, but it doesn’t reflect our work,” he said. “It’s really hard to look at what we need to do specifically to improve.”

With just one more year of MEAP testing before the state-led Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test on Common Core Standards is implemented in the 2014-15 school year, Gullekson hopes the new assessment brings more consistency. He also would like to see testing conducted in the spring of each school year, rather than the fall, to give students and teachers more time to prepare.

“I’m very much looking forward to a more consistent assessment. With the MEAP, they change the areas of focus and the cut scores,” Gullekson said. “The point that’s frustrating for educators is the MEAP has been called the MEAP for (more than 40 years). The test has changed significantly from what it’s beginning purpose was. It was mainly a very basic competency test. Now it’s become a much more rigorous instrument. People see the results and think schools are doing better or worse based on historical significance. In my opinion, it’s more beneficial from the standpoint of looking at individual skills and then trying to improve the educational process.”

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