In the annual report card that determines whether state schools are accredited, Muskegon Heights High School received failing grades in the four "student achievements": reading, math, science and social studies. But the struggling school got an overall of grade of "D" and avoided being unaccredited due to an automatic "A" the state gave it for filling out a report on "Indicators of School Performance."
Without that 100 percent "A" being factored in, many schools would have to rely solely on their failing student achievement results to be accredited. If a school fails to be accredited three years in a row, it can be shut down, state officials said.
"It is indefensible," said state Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, who serves on the House Education Committee. "Nobody would come out to a public forum and defend that and give cover to failing schools because they filled out 40 pages."
That automatic "A" accounted for one-third of the schools' Education YES! state report card grade. Approximately 500 school buildings didn't meet the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP). It is unclear how many of these also needed the automatic "A" to avoid the first step to the chopping block.
Joseph Martineau, the Department of Education's director of the Office of Educational Assessment and Accountability, said the automatic 100 percent grade was an arrangement for only one year. He said a new system will be used next year that will rate the lowest 5 percent of schools as unaccredited, and the next 15 percent will be put on interim accreditation.
In the past, the "Indicators of School Performance" was self-reported by schools and created an incentive for them to grade themselves artificially high, Martineau said. The "Indicators of School Performance" measures improvements the school is making due to research and best practices.
Martineau said the current policy of granting an automatic "A" allows a school to be "completely frank about myself."
McMillin asserts that handing out "A's" for nothing more than paperwork isn't a way to address failing schools.
"We are not holding anyone accountable," McMillin said. "We are turning a blind eye to failure. ... They could put anything they want on those 40 pages. It's just words."
Department of Education spokeswoman Jan Ellis said the process of filling out the report "is a whole school improvement effort. ... It's a pretty complicated and time-consuming report."
McMillin said the automatic "A" was part of an attempt by Gov. Jennifer Granholm's administration to cover up failing schools. He said with teachers receiving generous salaries and expensive benefits, it would make the state look bad to have so many unaccredited schools.
"You can't have hundreds of schools appear to look like they are failing because the public perception would then be 'Why are we paying so much for education and getting a failing product?' " McMillin said.
Muskegon Heights High School Assistant Principal Keith Guy didn't respond to an e-mail seeking comment.