LUTHER \u2014 When 100 K-5 students go back to school Tuesday at Luther Elementary School, they will enter a newly accredited \u201creward school.\u201d The school joined 285 other Michigan public K-12 schools in being recognized as \u201creward schools\u201d according to a new classification system unveiled by the Michigan Department of Education on Aug. 2. In addition to its annual Top to Bottom Ranking, the state also defined three new classifications for which schools can qualify: reward schools, focus schools and priority schools. \u201cReward school\u201d status means they are in the top 5 percent of schools statewide making the greatest academic progress in the past four years or are in the top 5 percent of schools according to the Top to Bottom ranking. Luther Elementary\u2019s Top to Bottom score ranks in the 72nd percentile, meaning the school scored higher than 1,552 other elementary schools in the state. \u201cI think the staff at Luther Elementary are doing an excellent job with kids who are struggling,\u201d said Jim Ganger, Pine River School District superintendent. \u201cScores are up because these kids get so much help. We\u2019re proud of them.\u201d The three new classifications for schools are the result of greater flexibility allowed by a federal waiver from meeting No Child Left Behind stipulations. NCLB, passed in 2001, required that all students test as proficient by 2014. Michigan\u2019s request for a waiver was granted in July, which allowed the MDE to set different proficiency goals and establish its own definition of schools that are succeeding or struggling. Focus schools are the 10 percent of schools with the widest gap in achievement between the top 30 percent of their students and lowest 30 percent of their students. Across the state, 358 schools fell into that category, including LeRoy Elementary. Priority schools, previously known as Persistently Lowest Achieving Schools, are schools that fall into the bottom 5 percent of the Top to Bottom list. The 146 priority schools identified this year must implement an intervention model designed to improve student achievement, otherwise they will be taken over by the state\u2019s Education Achievement Authority. Luther Elementary building leader Dawn Vanderhoof credits the reward status to a group of volunteers who come to the school weekly and assist the school\u2019s eight teachers in offering students one-on-one help. Many volunteers are retired or senior citizens from the community and help students with reading, mathematics, writing and other subjects each student needs help with. \u201cWe have a very strong group of volunteers who are probably in our building 28 to 30 hours a week, and they are helping kids academically,\u201d Vanderhoof said. She also credits the school\u2019s Title I teacher, a teacher paid with federal dollars provided to schools with high numbers or high percentages of low-income or at-risk children, who offers targetted assistance to students. \u201cOur Title I staff works very closely with our teachers to help the kids,\u201d Vanderhoof said. \u201cBecause of testing, (completed by the Title I teacher) I think our teachers really pinpoint what our kids need.\u201d Kindergarden teacher Stephanie McConnell said the school\u2019s small size is a benefit to student achievement. With a roughly 13-to-one student to teacher ratio, teachers are able to better help students individually. \u201cWe try to find strategies that work for kids and if they don\u2019t work, we try again,\u201d McConnell said. \u201cAnd we have great supportive parents.\u201d Though Vanderhoof is proud of the recognition Luther Elementary has received, she said there still is room for positive change in the school. She sees the new status as motivation to keep improving. \u201cIt\u2019s a nice distinction to receive, but we certainly know we\u2019re not there yet. There is still a lot of work to be done,\u201d Vanderhoof said. The following factors are included in the Top to Bottom ranking: Achievement in five content areas as tested by the MEAP at different grade levels; Improvement in achievement over time; Gap in achievement between top scoring 30 percent of students and bottom scoring 30 percent of students; Graduation rate; Improvement in graduation rate over time; and Z-score, which assigns an overall numerical value to a school compared to the state average.