The Department of Education released its annual Michigan school rankings and test results. Do we know what they mean or why – or even if – they matter?

The first chart below plots the statewide percentile ranking of each Grosse Pointe Public school against the percentage of students in each who are NOT Free and Reduced Lunch Eligible. By federal standards, a family of four is free lunch eligible when household income is below $29,965 and reduced lunch eligible below $42,643.

Statistically, the numbers show a strong positive correlation between lower enrollment in FRLE and state percentile rankings. (The “r” or correlation coefficient is a very high 0.82.) In other words, the wealthier the student population, the higher the state ranking. I have demonstrated before in a post back in September, 2010. It’s not materially different now.

FRLE_Rankings_GPPSS

Now look at the rise in percent of students Free and Reduced Lunch Eligibility by GPPSS school between 1995 and 2013.

FRLE_95_to_2013

In short, since state rankings correlate to wealth, school district rankings have dropped among the Grosse Pointe Public schools with rapidly rising FRLE populations or, in the case of South High School in particular, when certain government established “sub-groups” (e.g. African American, Economically Disadvantaged, Students with Disabilities) have become large enough to be scored separately.

It’s alluring to buy in or disregard, whole cloth, test score based measurements and rankings. The public and the district itself takes a selective stance on this. When scores and rankings are up, we seem to like them (see here). When they are down (like when North and South get a “red” ranking), we don’t like them so much. I’d link a press release on the red rankings, but I haven’t found one yet.

Certain segments of the public, and the public education establishment in particular, have long howled against No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, which is why the state of Michigan tests and reports as they do. Sure, the far right has taken political advantage of NCLB to promote their own education agenda, but the far left is equally guilty by dismissing all test based measures of proficiency. We need to find a middle ground that puts the interests of students over politics. I’ve published opinions on this here and here.

The Grosse Pointe high schools’ rate red because neither are making enough progress for African American, Economically Disadvantaged, or students with disabilities. It’s disingenuous to toot our horn about how well the district’s least disadvantaged students perform and then decry the same measures when we don’t do as well among these other, equally important, segments of students.

Oh by the way, those are the growing student populations in the district – as the second chart above shows quite clearly.

This is when it gets hard.

As I reported last week, the Board of Education is about to establish parameters by which the superintendent will be measured. There could not be a more opportune time for the district to establish official positions on what measures matter and how to then link those to the efficacy of district leadership.

Without taking an official stance on how we will assess ourselves, how can we possibly make informed strategy and financial decisions?

The trite phrase applies: if we never declare where we are going we’ll never know if we get there.