BY MICHAEL WALTON
KINGSLEY — Two area schools districts rank in the top 15 districts statewide based on a formula intended to calculate student performance relative to socioeconomic levels.
Kingsley Area Schools finished seventh overall and Benzie County Central Schools finished 14th in Academic State Champ rankings released by "Bridge Magazine" last week.
The magazine calculated the rankings with a value-added formula that compared student scores on the MEAP, MME and ACT, across grades and relative to socioeconomic status, according to an explanation of the study.
"When you apply that value-added matrix it puts things in perspective," Benzie Superintendent Dave Micinski said.
The formula strives to compare school districts by removing volatility created by a key driver of student success — socioeconomic status — the study states.
"Students that come from affluent backgrounds tend to do better (on standardized tests,)" Kingsley Superintendent Keith Smith said. "Those of us in education know that some of those accolades don't reflect excellence in teaching."
The study, performed by the magazine and the Lansing-based research firm Public Sector Consultants, looked at 560 public school districts and charter schools.
It used the percentage of students at each district eligible for reduced-price or free lunches to measure socioeconomic levels. It based a district's academic performance on the percentage of students whose results on standardized tests met state proficiency levels.
The formula calculated a score for each district. A score of 100 means students in a district performed at expected levels based on their socioeconomic status. Scores above 100 indicate a district's students performed above socioeconomic expectations.
Kingsley, with roughly 55 percent of its students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, scored 113.5. Benzie, with close to 63 percent eligibility for free or reduced-price lunches, scored a 111.6.
Seven other schools in the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District finished in the top 100: Frankfort-Elberta Area Schools ranked 23; Mancelona Public Schools ranked 51; Alba Public School ranked 54; Elk Rapids Public Schools ranked 71; Glen Lake Community Schools ranked 73; Grand Traverse Academy ranked 81; and Leland Public School ranked 83.
Study organizers acknowledge the value-added matrix formula is not perfect. For example, it does not eliminate problems associated with standardized testing and it fails to incorporate factors that affect student performance, such as pre-K education.
But Smith said the rankings are a solid step toward determining where students are receiving excellent instruction throughout the state.
"When you cut through all of it, this recognition is pointing out quality teaching," Smith said.
"Our teachers are pretty tickled and they should be tremendously proud," he said.