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Performance Audit of the Michigan School Readiness Program

Receives AOPTA Award for Six-Month Period - Ended March 31, 2005

Scott Strong, Deputy Auditor General, is pleased to announce that the performance audit of the Michigan School Readiness Program (MSRP), Michigan Department of Education (MDE), is the winner of the AOPTA for the six-month period ended March 31, 2005. The audit team consisted of Mary Jo Koschay, supervisor; team members Melanie Alvord and Pam Huffman; technical assistance provided by Andy Mitchell; Therese Regner, Audit Division Administrator; and Laura Hirst, Audit Manager.

MSRP provides funding to local schools and private nonprofit entities to fund high-quality preschool programs for four-year-old children who may be at risk of becoming educationally disadvantaged and who may have extraordinary need for special assistance. MSRP is funded from 100% General Fund/general purpose appropriations and serves approximately 25,000 children each year. MDE distributed approximately $85 million in MSRP grants in fiscal year 2003-04.

The audit, which contained 4 findings, involved travel to several different school districts and completion of a comprehensive analysis of program and student success. MDE had not evaluated the success of the program or its students since MSRP’s inception during the 1995-96 school year and performed only limited on-site monitoring, choosing to rely heavily on a self-assessment of program success completed by the schools.

The audit crew assessed the success of the program by working with MDE, the Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI) within the Department of Management and Budget, and 25 local school districts to obtain identifying information about 5,398 preschool students over the last 5 years. Once the data had been collected, the audit crew, with the assistance of Andy Mitchell, matched the local school district information to data that was retained at the State level in CEPI’s database. The audit crew then evaluated the students’ fourth grade Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) scores, attendance, and grade retention to evaluate the success of MSRP.

The audit work showed that overall at-risk students that participated in MSRP were significantly more successful than at-risk students that did not participate in the program. Further, the audit work showed that overall the at-risk students that participated in MSRP were performing almost as well as the students that are not at-risk. Further analysis by preschool program did show that some preschool programs’ students were not performing as well as other at-risk students. This analysis not only supported the finding that MDE should be tracking student progress to evaluate the success of MSRP, but also showed MDE that this type of analysis can be done in an efficient and timely manner with its current resources.

The audit crew evaluated MDE’s monitoring procedures by conducting site visits at 10 schools. The audit crew reviewed 246 student files to verify supporting documentation related to program eligibility and requirements and noted several exceptions even though MDE had been conducting a limited number of these types of visits. In addition, the audit crew evaluated 38 schools’ self-assessments compared to an independent consultant’s assessment of those same schools and determined that the self-assessment scores were inflated and, therefore, not the best indicator of program quality or successes. These findings helped convince MDE that independent monitoring is necessary to ensure program compliance. The audit crew also convinced MDE that through data analysis and revised reporting requirements, it could monitor programs more efficiently and utilize its limited resources to focus on-site visits on programs where students are not showing success.

The audit crew accomplished this complex analysis, coordinated the travel during the summer months, and issued the report within the audit budget. Throughout the audit, the crew held biweekly status meetings with MDE to discuss and resolve issues and to present potential audit findings. These discussions, during the fieldwork, facilitated MDE’s timely response to the report, eliminated the need for an audit conference, and resulted in the timely processing and release of the report. MDE communicated that it intended to use the recommendations to initiate new procedures, work with CEPI to capture preschool data, and attempt to obtain additional resources to support MSRP.

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