AP NEWS

Group criticizes delayed release of A-to-F grade for schools

November 12, 2019

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A conservative education group on Tuesday criticized the Michigan Department of Education for not publishing A-to-F grades for public schools as required under a new state law, saying a six- to seven-month delay is unacceptable.

The law that was enacted last December gave the agency a Sept. 1 deadline to assign each school a letter grade in five categories. The department says the information will be released in March.

“It’s now 72 days that they have been breaking the law,” Beth DeShone, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, said before dropping off the group’s own A-through-F report cards for about 2,800 schools at the State Board of Education’s monthly meeting.

She said it took a handful of people at GLEP and the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy just 20 hours to post the grades using publicly available 2017-18 data.

GLEP pushed for the accountability system as an improvement over a current “dashboard” that shows how schools fare on indicators in comparison to similar schools and the state average. The group was co-founded years ago by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and her family members still fund its political action committee.

State spokesman Martin Ackley said the Education Department has repeatedly told lawmakers that establishing a second school accountability system would take time.

“We aren’t withholding any information. We aren’t withholding the grades. We are still developing the system,” he said.

Ackley said the board planned to discuss the letter-grading system at its meeting Tuesday, including details such as how to statistically weight data. He noted that the Legislature recognized in the state budget that the grades would not be ready until March.

“It’s very complex to set up a system of accountability. It takes almost two years. What we’ve had to do is accelerate that system,” he said.

The law requires the Education Department to give grades to schools in five categories on or before Sept. 1 every year: students’ overall proficiency on standardized tests in math and English language arts; their growth on those assessments; graduation rates; academic performance compared to schools with similar student populations; and progress for children whose first language is not English.

The agency also must rank schools as significantly above average, above average, average, below average or significantly below average in student absenteeism, student participation on state exams and subgroups’ performance on the assessments.

“Letter grades are intuitive,” DeShone said. “Our children receive report cards every quarter, and we celebrate their successes and we provide support to them when they need help. Why we should not expect that for our school buildings in our state is beyond me.”

Republicans who control the Legislature are also unhappy that the grades were not issued by Sept. 1. They passed a budget that would have set aside three-quarters of the department’s funding in reserve, pending the release of the grades by the end of March.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared the provision unenforceable and used a state board to fully fund the department immediately.

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