ESD Scorecard gives parents leg up on finding best schools

Today is a big day for parents in Detroit who want to find the best school for their child.

After two years of data collection, analysis, site visits, and knocking down obstacles, Excellent Schools Detroit has released their apples-to-apples comparison of Detroit schools.

The 2013 ESD Detroit Scorecard ranks schools on more than just test scores. It also takes into

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See the full scorecard at scorecard.excellentschoolsdetroit.org

account other measures, including: the Detroit 5Essentials, a student and teacher survey on five competencies that determine whether or not a school is positioned to improve; NWEA or Scantron growth data, which tracks how much students on average advance in a school year; and community site reviews, in which community members assessed the school on an unannounced site visit.

Schools earned their grades based on all of that aggregated data, and “extra credit” was given to schools that face extra challenges. Things like an extra high number of low-income, other language learners, or special needs students.

That combination of various types of data makes this card what it is – truly special.

“Looking across the country, you’d be hard-pressed to find a scorecard that is more thoughtful than the one prepared by Excellent Schools Detroit,” said Tammie Jones, Skillman Foundation program officer, education. “They are at the cutting edge of this work with the inclusion of growth assessments and measurements around school climate.  Detroit school leaders have shown real courage in opening their schools up in this way, and this commitment, along with determination of parents and community members seeking excellence from our education system, is bound to create a winning situation for Detroit students.”

The hope behind the report card is to have a rigorously researched but easy-to-use tool that lets parents have real, comprehensive data, so they can make the best informed choices on where to send their children. It’s a tool that is launched today, but it’s also a living tool that will be updated a few times a year as new data is available.

Excellent Schools Detroit Executive Director Dan Varner said the goal is to see enrollment in the best schools go up, and to see schools that receive low grades to financially suffer – and eventually close their doors.

“We want kids to move from F schools to C+ schools or higher,” Varner said. “Because there is a significant gulf of what is being delivered to students between an F school and a C+ school. You’ll get much better outcomes in a C+ school.”

Not all schools in Detroit participated, but 86 percent did. Of those who didn’t, some did not share data sets. Some shared only some of the available data. Others would not open their doors for a site visit.

Varner says the act of not participating is “shameful.”

“These schools are educating our kids,’ Varner said, “and they have a responsibility to the public to let us know how they’re doing.”

Thirty-three schools did not receive a grade because they are either too new or they have had a “fresh start,” turning to a new governance style, and the ESD team wanted more data before they felt they could fairly dole out a grade. That group includes the Educational Achievement Authority Schools, which started in that model last year.

Of those ungraded schools, some were given a “thumbs up,” because the data and information that ESD does have looks promising.

The best schools in Detroit received a B+, which ESD identifies as a “very good” school. A ‘B’ school is considered “good.” Anything above a C is what they recommend parents seek out, and only about 1 in 4 Detroit schools reviewed – 51 in total -- met that mark.

Failing schools, many of which did not fully participate in the review process, received an F.

Out of 204 schools that were reviewed, not a single one earned an A (which Varner said would be an A school anywhere, not just in Detroit). That needs to change, of course. But this is a positive step in that direction, and one that should be nationally recognized. Don’t take this report card for granted; this is not a resource you can find just anywhere. This is uniquely Detroit.

“For a long time, the national narrative about Detroit has not been kind to us,” Varner said. “We all know that be the case and frankly some of that was deserved, but some of it perhaps not. There’s a new narrative that needs to be told, despite all the difficulties around municipal bankruptcy and so on, about the work going on on the ground for the benefit of kids and families. This is part of it. Detroit schools systems across governance types have allowed us to get the data that allows of apples to apples comparisons. That’s not happening in most other cities."

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