A representative of the state board of education spoke strongly against a House bill to evaluate school performance with an A-F report card, but charter supporters argued it was the best way to hold schools accountable.
In the second day of House testimony for the proposal, Tom McMillin, a Republican on the board who represents Oakland Township, strongly expressed his dismay.
“I can tell you which ones will be tagged D and F,” he said, pointing to a graph of the poorest schools. “The ones down here.”
The bill would give each school six letter grades based on student scores, academic growth, improvements made by English learners, graduation and chronic absenteeism rates, and the number of students who take state tests.
Charter leaders and advocates have expressed support for the A-F letter grades because they believe the system would allow parents to see quickly and easily which public schools, traditional or charters, are best-performing.
“One of our guiding principles is that accountability is critical, but the accountability system in Michigan is foggy at best,” said Jared Burkhart, executive director of the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers, which supports the bill. “We need to be able to look ourselves in the mirror and grade ourselves.”
The A-F ranking system has been a divisive issue, with others viewing it as too simplistic because it doesn’t necessarily take into account factors like poverty that would impact student performance.
The state board had voted against using letter grades last year because they felt grades didn’t show enough detail for parents. The state superintendent, who earlier had supported letter grades, submitted a system that was a dashboard of data. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos approved the plan at the end of last year. The dashboard was created to comply with federal education law.
Rep. Pamela Hornberger, a Republican representing parts of Macomb, wasn’t swayed by McMillin’s testimony. Leaving children “in failing schools and not providing the information to parents that’s easy and clear and concise is wrong.”
McMillin shot back: “It’s easy and clear because it’s arbitrary and it could be very wrong.”
The new proposal calls for a dual way of analyzing school performance. To help account for factors like poverty, in addition to letter grades, every school would also be labeled: significantly above average, above average, average, below average, or significantly below average. Schools would be compared with other schools of similar demographics.
Because letter grades do not fully take poverty into account, one of the six grades would be for student growth, a measure that has been used in other states because it has been called a fairer way of comparing a wealthy school to a poor one.
The bill would create a commission to figure out the details behind the A-F letter grades and labels, including deciding what demographic factors they will look at when comparing schools. If the bill is approved in committee and passed by lawmakers in both houses, commission members would be appointed this fall, and they would be tasked with implementing the new systems for the 2019 school year.