State officials: No A-F letter grades for Michigan schools by Sept. 1

The Michigan Department of Education said it will not meet the Sept. 1 legislative deadline to issue A-to-F letter grades to public schools in the state.

That development came up during the monthly State Board of Education meeting Tuesday in Lansing. It’s unclear what, if any, repercussions the department would face by not complying with the deadline.

A key reason for the delay: Sheila Alles, the department’s chief deputy superintendent, said some crucial data on student improvement that is needed to calculate the grades won’t be available until after Sept. 1.

Alles said the department’s goal is to create a “comprehensive, coherent, reliable accountability system.” 

“It’s important to note that we cannot do that and meet the Sept. 1 deadline date,” said Alles, who until a few weeks ago had served as interim state superintendent for 15 months.

Alles said the department could have the letter grades issued by March.

Ever since Michigan lawmakers approved the controversial letter grading law during the lame-duck legislative session in December, state education officials have said that it would be near impossible to meet the Sept. 1 deadline.

Advocates of the letter grades say they are crucial to school improvement efforts because they believe the grades will spur schools to change. They also said the grades will provide parents with information to help them assess the quality of schools.

The state education department opposed the legislation, as did members of the State Board. Both groups said the grades would conflict with an existing accountability system that was created and launched in early 2018 to follow federal education law.

That system provides a numerical rating of schools, from zero to 100, based on a number of categories, such as academic performance and school quality. 

“This department was clear and upfront before it ever passed that it was problematic and would create complete chaos,” State Board President Casandra Ulbrich said Tuesday. “It was passed anyway. It included deadlines that are flat-out impossible. Anyone who has ever worked in education would know that.”

Ulbrich earlier this year asked lawmakers to give the department an extension on meeting the Sept. 1 deadline. Lawmakers have yet to respond, she said.

“Not even a recognition of the letter,” Ulbrich said during Tuesday’s meeting.

Alles provided an overview of what has occurred since the legislation was approved, including weekly meetings at the state education department of a team that has worked to implement the grades.

But even while that work was going on, the department has been trying to answer some key questions. For instance, she said the department has been working with the U.S. Department of Education all year to address whether the A-to-F accountability system could replace the existing system. 

The federal law that governs elementary and secondary education in the U.S. requires states to have an accountability system in place. Alles said that in a May phone call, state and federal officials and representatives of key lawmakers concluded that the A-to-F system could not be used to comply with the federal law and that “state statute did not supersede federal law.”

Spokespeople for the House and Senate legislative leaders could not immediately be reached for comment.