The following column from Michelle Bradford, LCS Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction, appeared in the Lapeer County Press on September 8, 2019:
Last month, I was sitting in the classroom of the longest-serving teacher in the history of Lapeer Community Schools. I listened as he talked about a book study he participated in over the summer about visual learning techniques and how they can impact student success.
He recounted being Up North over the summer when some friends appeared to be puzzled when they saw him reading it. The implication, of course, was that after more than 42 years in the classroom, Oscar Rodriguez should be writing books, not reading them.
His response to friends tells you everything you need to know about the teacher known to students as O-Rod: There’s always something new worth learning.
Five years ago, when I was named as executive director of curriculum and instruction for the district, my focus was not on test scores. I knew from my experience as a paraprofessional, teacher and principal in Lapeer that our scores were a reflection of our instructional practices, for better or worse, and how successfully we were able to implement them across levels.
I knew we could do better.
And we have.
Since that time, the district has invested significantly in academic programs that challenged our students with rigor, including college- level coursework during the school day. We’ve ushered the nation’s leading STEM curriculum into our elementary schools, even for students in kindergarten. We’ve systemically dismantled barriers — financial, geographic, demographic, etc. — that have historically limited students from advanced opportunities.
Our students have responded in truly incredible numbers.
Back then, our hypothesis was simple: If we focused on best practices with fidelity, invested in growth strategies for students and staff, and offered students the best academic options available in a dynamic, engaging environment, we would eventually see it reflected in the numbers.
And we have.
In the past several years, our students’ performance on standardized tests, including M-STEP, have increased significantly.
In 2017, we were proud to have two schools (Schickler Elementary and Murphy Elementary) recognized as Reward Schools, a distinction shared by only a small fraction of the 3,000 schools in Michigan. We have seen overall proficiency on the M-STEP increase every year since 2015. During that span of time the district would match and then surpass the average proficiency of Lapeer County districts.
This year, the highest-performing school on the elementary M-STEP was Schickler Elementary, besting Almont and Chatfield. Schickler was the only elementary school in Lapeer County that beat the county average in all seven tested areas — no other school had more than five. The district as a whole beat the county average in six of seven tested areas.
This is spectacular growth!
For reference, in 2015 Schickler’s average proficiency on the elementary M-STEP was 37.5 percent. Fast forward to today and that number is just shy of 60 percent. Embedded in that incredible growth is a lot of hard work, teacher collaboration and willingness to adopt new strategies to increase student achievement. The entire staff at Schickler embraced the belief that every student is capable meeting and even exceeding high standards for achievement.
And they have.
Fortunately, our growth is not limited to our youngest learners. In the most recent results, the District as a whole showed year-over-year growth or consistency in nearly 60 percent of all tested areas on the M-STEP, P-SAT and SAT. Rolland-Warner and Zemmer showed year-over-year growth or consistency in every tested area.
All that to say this: we’ve come a long way as a school district and we should have a collective sense of pride in what our students continue to achieve. We recognize that our students are much more than the sum of our scores and that, like Oscar, we never stop learning.
As a district, we are fully committed to putting students first, embracing innovation and improving every day.
And yet, in 2015 as in 2019, we can do better.
And we will.