State Labels Northern a Focus School

Because of a wide gap between the top and bottom ACT scorers, the State labels PN a 'Focus School.'

State Labels Northern a Focus School

Gabby Childers, Special to the NL

Portage Northern High School. A top performing school in Michigan, with a graduation rate of 97%. The work ethic of many students is outstanding, and the amount of “college ready” students is enormous.  So why does Northern, a school with such high performing students, suddenly have a label that isn’t so positive?  “Focus school” is the term that the State uses to single out schools with a large gap between the top 30% of high scoring students on the ACT and MME tests, and the bottom 30% of student scores. Unfortunately, this “focus school” label may now seem like a negative addition to Northern’s list of mostly positive achievements, but it is really?

Principal Jim French, however, thinks that this label is unfair. When asked about the focus school issue, French responded with the fact that he does not think it is fair to base a school’s achievement levels off of a timed test. “It’s an area we’ve never been assessed in,” French said. French also shared that he believes some students struggle with these tests because they are simply bad test takers, but there is also the flip side, where some students just do not seem to care about their scores. The importance of these tests, and the gap between the performance levels at Northern might be more important than students seem to realize.

Many teachers at Northern have different opinions on the focus school label, but in the end, they all want their students to strive for excellence. Mrs. Friedman,  Latin teacher, was very disappointed with the focus school label. “I find it is kind of daunting,” Friedman said. “We need to be mindful [about all students],” Friedman said.  Other teachers, however, think it is quite funny that Portage Northern has been labeled as a focus school. “It’s amusing to me that we are a top performing school and a focus school,” said Mrs. Hertel, science teacher. When Hertel was asked about the fairness of basing a school’s performance off of standardized tests results, she responded with, “It’s not sound science.”  The group of students taking the tests is a different group every year, so according to Hertel, comparing the data of scores each year is an inaccurate way to measure a school’s performance because every group of students is different.

The staff at Portage Northern is now working with great efforts in order to better prepare their students for these standardized tests. Timed tests and essay questions are being implemented into the schedule of classes, which are strategies that will hopefully help to close the wide gap between the top performing and bottom performing students.

However, the effort to close this gap cannot only be coming from the teachers. Students need to realize the importance of the ACT and MME tests. “The MME is a valuable test,” said French. Remember, the State and the universities use the scores to measure both the individual student and the school district. So before filling out all B’s on the ACT or MME, or having the “I don’t give a crap” mentality, consider the consequences. Your score not only affects you, your chances for scholarships, but it also affects the way people look at your school.