School Ratings: Another analysis shows real-life factors 2015.02.11

We recently made reference to a study by the Mackinac Center that pointed out weaknesses in the testing performance of Morenci students. The results are nothing to hide. Instead, school superintendent Mike McAran welcomes data that shows where work needs to be done by school staff.

Another interesting ranking of schools is now available through Bridge magazine. Similar data shows through in this analysis, too, although there are also some striking differences.

The Mackinac study incorporates the incidence of students qualifying for free lunch as it looks at how students fare over recent years. The Bridge ranking takes a broader look at socioeconomic factors and includes not only free lunch statistics, but reduced-price data, also. For a district such as Morenci with a significant itinerant population—students enrolling, departing, occasionally re-enrolling, arriving in the middle of the school year and often behind in studies—socioeconomic factors play an important role in student success.

It's these factor that so often determine how well prepared a student is for school, not only in the initial kindergarten year, but throughout a student's school career. It's a factor that state standards ignore. To legislators, most who have never served as a school teacher, every single student must succeed academically.

The Bridge analysis is unique because it creates expectations of student success based on socioeconomic factors. It's not an excuse; it's a dose of reality. It's an understanding that student populations vary from district to district.

The study doesn't hide low test proficiency numbers—it's obvious where Morenci's problems lie—but it does turn the data into a set of expectations based on each district's students. Morenci exceeds expectations in six of 23 categories, actually over-performing  despite test scores that are far from stellar. Morenci's overall ranking is actually the fourth best in the county.

It's important for our teachers to realize they aren't the failures that the state seems to want to make of them. However, the Bridge study clearly lays out the path to improvements. This, too, will be used by the administration to make changes and improve the school's standing—a difficult job when state standards are continually in flux.

State test scores alone might lead someone to wonder if a good education is possible in a particular district. In Morenci, the success stories of graduates abound. As always, the challenge remains to reach the students who aren't prepared and aren't motivated to learn.