Michigan’s A-to-F grading system for school quality could be eliminated

School bus shown in the rear-view mirror of a vehicle.
Michigan schools receive letter grades for test scores, graduation rates, and their performance compared with similar schools. (David Handschuh for Chalkbeat)

Some Michigan lawmakers want to nix an A-to-F grading system for schools that’s just a few years old. 

The report card-style grades were intended to provide families with easily understandable measures of school quality.

But the grading system had few supporters in the education world when the state began requiring it in 2018. Critics pointed out that Michigan is already rating schools on a scale of 1 to 100, using many of the same metrics as the A-to-F grades, as part of its federally mandated school accountability system.

The House Education Committee heard testimony Tuesday on House Bill 4166, which would eliminate the A-F system. Its main sponsor, Rep. Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, said school officials believe the system is “too simplistic.” 

“Giving parents and families contradictory information within two different systems does nothing productive,” Koleszar said. “In fact, the one thing I can assure you is that it causes confusion. When you have two rival systems, the choice is clear. The system that does not meet federal standards is the one that should be repealed.” 

The law passed during a lame duck session in 2018. Schools are currently assigned grades in eight areas, including test scores and graduation rates. They don’t receive an overall letter grade. The grades can be viewed on Michigan’s education data website.

Among its opponents was the entire Michigan board of education, including Republican members.

Nikki Snyder, a Republican member of the board and candidate for U.S. Senate, said she is still reviewing the legislation but remains generally opposed to the A-to-F grades because they don’t provide families with data on their own students.

“We don’t want entire communities to be known for something that isn’t helpful for individual students,” she said.

“The multiple letter grade system in Michigan is incoherent and irrelevant to school districts and schools. It is a product of an historic disconnect between Governors, the Legislature, MDE, and school districts,” Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, told Chalkbeat in an email.

Not everyone agrees with dumping the grading system.

At the Tuesday committee meeting, Minority Vice Chair Rep. Jaime Greene, R-Richmond, said she wants to find a solution that will hold schools accountable, help low-performing schools, and also allow an everyday parent to understand if their school is doing well.

“I guess what I’m looking for is something easier for parents to know how their school is performing,” Greene, who doesn’t support the legislation, told officials from the Michigan Department of Education. 

The legislation that required the A-to-F grades also required the state to post detailed information about schools, including student attendance and teacher turnover. That data wouldn’t go away if the grades are eliminated under the new legislation.

“All of the things that went into calculating that grade, all the metric information will be available, but they’re not going to put the stamp of a letter on it,” said Bob McCann, executive director of the K-12 Alliance, an association of 123 Michigan districts. “That’s important transparency.”

Several school organizations support the bill including Detroit Public Schools Community District, Macomb ISD, Oakland Schools, Wayne RESA, and The Michigan Department of Education. 

Education Advocates of West Michigan, Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, the Michigan Alliance for Student Opportunity, and the Michigan Education Association support the bill.

The Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers is neutral, while the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Great Lakes Education Project Education Fund are opposed to the bill. 

Koby Levin is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering K-12 schools and early childhood education. Contact Koby at klevin@chalkbeat.org.

Isabel Lohman is a reporter for Bridge Michigan covering K-12 schools and higher education. Contact Isabel at ilohman@bridgemi.org

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