Both the "focus" and "reward" school designations are new this year, reflecting a major overhaul of the annual state report, one that seeks a more "transparent" analysis of academic achievement and school quality than has been allowed in recent years under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
A major criticism of that law has been that it judged all schools by the same standards, although decades of research indicates that individual student performance is much, much more correlated to sociodemographics versus school quality.
What is interesting is the difference between how this year's version of the rankings is being hailed versus the first couple of years. With the earlier rankings, the local media in the Grand Rapids area couldn't seem to stop hammering on the schools ranked at or near the bottom. I know, because our district's high school was one of the 5% lowest achieving schools in the first year. However, since that list was published, the school has soared to the 63rd percentile this year surpassing all other high schools in the immediate surrounding districts (Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Wyoming, and Grandville). While Monica Scott has mentioned this a couple of times in online Mlive.com blog postings, nothing has appeared in the print version of The Grand Rapids Press or on local radio or television pointing out our high school's accomplishment. Here's a comparative listing of the rankings between our high school (Lee High School) and those other area schools.
My theory is that because a few formerly high ranking schools in Kent County (and around the state) lost ground and even are now identified as FOCUS schools requiring state interventions until they close the achievement gaps, egos have been bruised and the media, which often caters to the more affluent customer base, is lying low.
This same "head-in-the-sand" reaction is one of the primary reasons inequity in school funding for low-economic versus affluent school districts also continues to flourish. After all, the state's TTB ranking comes on the heals of the Mackinac Center's ranking of Michigan's high schools taking socio-economics into account. Our high school again soared to the top ranking first in Kent County among traditional high schools and third in the entire State of Michigan. Folks in the affluent districts had to be vomiting over that one.