(Source: MIRS.news, Published 05/03/23) Legislation wiping out Michigan's A-F school quality ranking system was approved in the Senate Wednesday by a party-line vote, 20-18, after Republicans claimed removing the "easy-to-understand" report card-style assessment tool would weaken transparency and accountability in Michigan's education system.
"Our state's students get graded A-F on their report cards so that their parents know how they're doing in every subject. Yet, we stand here today, poised in this body, to pass a bill that says our schools, (that teach our state's children), that are paid for by state tax dollars, cannot be subjected to the same type of scrutiny," said Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly), a member of the Senate Education Committee, before HB 4166 was passed.
Members of Michigan's public education community have regularly criticized the A-F school quality ranking system since it was signed into law in December 2018.
Presently, public school students' proficiency in math and English Language Arts, their proficiency in comparison to similar schools, their graduation rate and the growth of both traditional students and English learners are subject to a letter grade.
The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) is responsible for putting together the reviews.
However, opponents of the report card-style evaluation have described it as a duplicative and poorer alternative to the state's federally approved Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – utilizing a 0-100 ranking index accounting for more of a school's characteristics – and the Parent Dashboard for School Transparency, that has been reached by more than 2 million viewers.
"I'm in the business of passing bills into law that the educational community has actually asked for, which has not always been the case in previous legislative terms," said Sen. Dayna POLEHANKI (D-Livonia), the Senate Education chair. "I think any parent would be pleased at how user-friendly and readable this parent dashboard is. The parent dashboard has almost everything on it that the A-F had."
Polehanki said she'll be using her social media profiles to bring more awareness to the aforementioned dashboard, as well as "yelling about it from the rooftops."
Specifically, the text- and map-based dashboard was launched in 2018 through the MDE, allowing guardians to explore the distinct types of services and offerings a school has and how a school performs among counterparts most similar to itself. It also gives viewers access to numerous data samples, like advanced coursework, student transfers, postsecondary enrollment, English learner progress and more.
Although Sen. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs), the Senate Education Committee's minority vice chair, said he was persuaded that Michigan does not necessarily need the A-F system's "redundant measurements," he said Michigan taxpayers remain entitled to "an open, easy-to-understand assessment" of how "10s of billions" in education spending is being used.
"The A-F system in my mind is about communication. We are all conditioned to immediately understand what these grades represent. Parents who are not experts in detailed charts can look at the broad categories and get it right away," Damoose said, offering an unsuccessful amendment to combine a report card-like presentation to the state's ESSA index system.
Polehanki, a former high school English teacher, said before casting a floor vote on
HB 4166, a fellow senator spotlighted how once a school in their district received an F grade "they could never bounce back, they could never get that stink off of them because of public perception."
She expressed an attempt to "(slap) grades" on the ESSA index system would require "a heck of a lot of work to do online" and would need to be appealed to the federal government, which can take a long time.
Ultimately, she said she's calling foul on claims that the ESSA index system, in combination with the dashboard, will be too difficult for parents to understand.
Shortly after HB 4166 was voted on today, the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), a school choice and educational accountability group, issued a press release criticizing the legislation for placing "parents in the dark about the performance of our kids' schools."
"Parents have the right to know how their children are performing in the classroom, and they have the right to know how local schools are performing for their kids. Instead of backing parents, Senate Democrats are cloaking school performance in secrecy," said GLEP Executive Director Beth DeShone. "Today's vote takes Michigan backwards on public transparency and it makes our public schools less accountable."