Bill requiring A-F grades for schools advances in Michigan

(Photo supplied/Michigan News Service)

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 also has 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.

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