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Michigan education department blasts A to F school system bill

Jan. 17: Six systems in 7 years and Michigan students still lag. Now comes A to F.​
Jan. 3: Michigan’s A-to-F school ratings on ice until attorney general weighs in

Michigan’s interim state school superintendent blasted an attempt by the Legislature to grade schools on an A to F scale, sending a sharply worded, last-minute letter directly to the Senate, where the bill’s fate likely will be determined in the next two days.

In the letter, delivered Tuesday, Interim State Superintendent Sheila Alles says that if the bill becomes law it would create a chaotic, parallel accountability system for several years, and may violate federal law.

“This bill undermines two years of investment and stakeholder input by adding new requirements that either conflict with Michigan’s federally approved Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) state plan or violate federal law,” Alles wrote.

You can read the interim state superintendent’s letter here. 

House Bill 5526 would mandate the Michigan Department of Education to create a system to grade schools from the best (A) to worse (F) in five metrics: proficiency in math and English; growth in math and English; growth in proficiency among English as a second language students; graduation rates; and academic performance compared to similar schools.

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The bill passed the House last week. Since Snyder is expected to sign the bill if it gets to his desk (“That is something I’ve been a long-term supporter of,” Snyder told reporters last week.), the Senate is opponents’ best chance of stopping the bill, which critics see as doing little to address student learning in Michigan’s struggling public schools. Both legislative chambers are controlled by Republicans, as is the governor’s office, until January.

The House passed the bill last week by a narrow 56-53 margin. The bill’s sponsor, term-limited Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw, told Bridge early in the lame duck session that the legislation would make it easier for parents to understand how their children’s school is performing compared with other Michigan schools.

Democrats say they are skeptical of the bill because of doubts that the system would help learning, while they say it will shame schools given failing grades instead of boosting them with additional resources.

With the bill on the agenda for a possible Senate vote late Tuesday, the Department of Education delivered what amounted to a Hail Mary in a letter to the Senate earlier in the day detailing its opposition. According to MDE’s Alles, the bill would:

  • Exempt special education students from accountability results, a violation of the federal ESSA law
  • Identify schools at the bottom of scores for proficiency and growth, which is not aligned with ESSA requirements
  • Exclude some schools from the A-to-F policy, which is not allowed under ESSA, which requires all schools to have the same accountability metrics
  • The deadlines in the bill for accountability measures don’t line up with the timing of current testing, possibly causing changes in the testing schedule or hobbling state standards for validating those results  

Because the state is required to have a federally-approved accountability system, the state would have to continue to operate the current, approved system until the proposed A-to-f system wins federal approval. That means the state would in the short term have to operate two parallel accountability systems.

“In the meantime, the accountability clock for our schools would have to be reset and the goal post moved yet again,” Alles wrote.

“The vision for Michigan always has been to have one transparent and coherent accountability system for parents to use in choosing a school for their children” Alles concluded. “HB 5525 would be disruptive for local school districts and cause confusion for families, students and educators across Michigan.”

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