A New Metric on Education in Kalamazoo County

Jun 3, 2014

The Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo has created a new tool for measuring the quality of education in Kalamazoo County.

It has just released a scorecard designed to measure students’ progress from “cradle to career.”

It combines narrative and numbers as it tracks students through seven benchmarks in their development – starting with their readiness for kindergarten and following them into college and beyond.

The scorecard is built on a data analysis carried out by the Upjohn Institute. The Learning Network is a project of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

Rather than present a wall of abstractions, the organization strove to make the final product accessible, says TLN’s Amy Slancik in a recent interview.

“We wanted to make it community-friendly. So, readable and simple by all different audiences that The Learning Network attracts,” she says.

Some of the facts the scorecard presents could be seen as discouraging. According to the section on “kindergarten readiness,” in 2013 54 percent of Kalamazoo County children were well-prepared to attend kindergarten. That’s down from 60 percent in 2011.

At the sixth grade level, just 35 percent of Kalamazoo County students were proficient in math in 2013.
Slancik says in publishing those numbers, The Learning Center isn’t looking to make accusations.

“One of the reasons for this scorecard is not to point fingers at anyone or to call out maybe what’s not working,” she says.

“It’s more to say, okay, community, here’s where we are. How can the community support the schools and vice versa to set these kids up for success?”

“I think the scorecard also adds a level of urgency or a call to action in our community,” she adds.

Early childhood education ranks high among the group’s priorities. The middle school years, which Slancik describes as “key to kids staying in school,” are right up there too.

“We know that kids need to start thinking about – in middle school – what it is that they want to do in their adult life and so what paths should they be looking at to get them there,” she says.

“I also think adult literacy is a key piece,” she adds. Slancik says communities around the country are starting to realize that a significant number of adults cannot read above the sixth grade level. That affects not only their quality of life but potentially that of their children.

“If they have trouble reading they might not be able to access what’s needed in enrolling their kids in pre-kindergarten,” she says.

The Learning Network didn’t generate new data for the scorecard. Instead, it relied on information already available to the public. Slancik says there’s value in interpreting that information, and sequencing it in a meaningful way.

“It puts it all together for someone to understand – from zero to adult, here’s how it can impact a child throughout their various years of education. And so I think it puts it into a story of someone across their life.

“It makes it more urgent because it’s right there and you can read it.”