Bill requiring A-F grades for schools advances in Michigan
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan would give A-through-F grades to public schools under legislation that narrowly passed the Republican-led House, where supporters hailed it early Thursday as a simpler way to hold schools accountable but critics called it a setback in improving the state’s lagging educational performance.
The 56-53 vote was taken after 3 a.m., capping a 17-hour session in which GOP leaders ultimately succeeded in getting enough support after numerous last-minute revisions. The bill goes next to the Republican-controlled Senate for debate next week.
Schools would not be given a cumulative letter grade. Instead, the measure would require the state Department of Education to assign each school an A, B, C, D or F in five categories by Sept. 1, 2019 and each year following.
Those categories include students’ overall proficiency and growth on state standardized tests, graduation rates, academic performance compared to schools with similar student populations, and progress for children whose first language is not English.
“Aside from the hyperbole and hysteria on the left, I think that this is a good thing for Michigan. I think it’ll help not only parents, but it will also help schools identify their weaknesses and try and focus on bringing those areas of weakness up,” said the Republican sponsor, House Education Reform Committee Chairman Tim Kelly of Saginaw Township.
Michigan currently publishes an online “parent dashboard” that shows how schools fare on indicators in comparison to similar schools and the state average. It was unveiled 11 months ago and replaced a color-coded scorecard that had come under criticism as too confusing.
Democrats and traditional education groups blasted the House-passed legislation, which GOP lawmakers have been trying to enact for years. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and business organizations also have called for an A-to-F system.
“The bottom line is simple: This bill does absolutely nothing to help parents, teachers, students succeed in the classroom,” said Rep. Kristy Pagan of Wayne County’s Canton Township, who said the state already is too reliant on “high-stakes standardizing testing (that) has done nothing to improve education in our state.”
The latest version of the bill would not include a commission to oversee the A-through-F system, but rather a less powerful peer review panel. The commission had been viewed suspiciously by detractors who saw it as a power grab from the elected state education board.
The measure also would require the Education Department to rank each school as significantly above average, above average, average, below average or significantly below average in specific indicators.
Kelly, in defending his legislation as “baby steps” because of the lack of an overarching grade for each schools noted that the Legislature and Snyder required letter grades in Detroit as part of a state bailout of the district in 2016. The plan is still being developed.
“It’s fair to Detroit that everybody else share this same kind of scrutiny,” he said, calling the A-F grades an “overlay” on the existing dashboard and noting that the bill would scrap the state’s authority to close schools consistently in the bottom 5 percent.
Democrats accused majority Republicans of bending to the will of education groups backed by the politically influential DeVos family.
“How does anyone in good conscience, elected by the people of Michigan to serve her citizens, waste this much taxpayers’ time?” said Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, a former teacher who likened the bill to an “ill-prepared project pieced together the night before it’s due.”
House Bill 5526: http://bit.ly/2RYzWVY