A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

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Change To How Schools Are Graded Held Up Until New Year

Plan to base more on academic growth still facing hurdles in House

Legislation to change the way the state assesses the performance of schools was reported out of the House Education Committee in the December session but not taken up for a vote on the House floor.

That means further movement of the measure will have to wait until after the New Year.

House Bill 5112, sponsored by Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, would create an A-F grading system for schools and place greater emphasis on student academic growth.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy released a study in October showing that the current system used by the state to grade (or rank) schools is flawed. The study concluded that the system risks grading the schools based on their percentage of low income students instead of on actual academic performance.

Audrey Spalding, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center, authored the study and said that considering the lack of wiggle room federal guidelines allow House Bill 5112 would take the state of Michigan about as far as it can go toward producing a better system for grading schools.

"This grading system is an improvement over the Top-to-Bottom list because it will increase the emphasis on student growth," Spalding said. "Given federal requirements, there's not much more the state can do to improve its grading system."

Rep. Lyons introduced House Bill 5112 on Oct. 29 and its movement through the committee process was comparatively rapid. However, it came out of committee Dec. 4, just eight days before the Legislature left for its holiday break. 

In committee the vote on House Bill 5112 was 11-4-2, with nine Republicans and two Democrats voting "yes." Two Republicans opposed the bill. They were Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills and Rep. Thomas Hooker, R-Byron Center. The two Democrats who voted "no" were Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods and Rep. Theresa Abed, D-Grand Ledge.

Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids and Rep. Collene Lamonte, D-Montague, abstained.

Rep. Bob Genetski, R-Saugatuck, was one of the 11 committee members who voted for House Bill 5112. 

"I voted for the bill because it would put a system in place that will provide a simpler means of measuring performance than the one the Department of Education has been using, which has about 265 different things being measured," Rep. Genetski said. "The way they've been doing it has caused a lot of frustration for local districts. It reminded me of the homeland security system, where they had all of those confusing color alerts and no one really quite knew what orange meant."

Rep. Pete Lund, R-Shelby, who also voted for the bill, said the measure is based on a straightforward concept.

"It's amazing to me how students are expected to be held accountable with letter grades, but some adults seem to be afraid of the same principle being applied to them," Rep. Lund said. "We need to adopt a system that has transparency and accountability, and that's what this bill does."

Rep. Hooker, who is a strong advocate of the Mackinac Center study, said he voted against the bill because it would create an oversimplified grading system that wouldn't take enough variables into account.

"This bill would take the state away from a grading system that uses a color code instead of letter grades and is based on about 238 different things," Rep. Hooker said. "Unfortunately it would replace that system with an oversimplified one that would be based on just three. More things than that should be taken into consideration."

Rep. Hooker said he and Rep. McMillin put together a substitute version of the bill, based on a dashboard approach. It would have allowed schools to provide more individualized input. The substitute wasn’t adopted by the committee but was added to the bill as an amendment.

Rep. Hooker said he has concerns about creating a grading system based on a test that has yet to be developed.

Rep. Lipton, the ranking Democrat on the committee, also voted against House Bill 5112.

She said she considered the Mackinac Center study "useful and valuable," but voted against House Bill 5112 because she questions the motivations behind the measure.

"They (bill advocates) said there is a public outcry on this issue, but I'm not aware that there is such an outcry," Rep. Lipton said. "Our current system was carefully crafted and shouldn't be replaced by a ham-handed system that fails to take enough factors into account. I see this bill as a backdoor way of putting kids into the EAA (Gov. Rick Snyder's Education Achievement Authority for failing schools)."

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See also:

State Still Downplaying Socioeconomic Status' Impact on School Rankings

Legislator: Improving State's Grading System For Schools a Priority

Michigan Schools Promoting a Large Number of Students Who Cannot Read

Failing Schools Able To Mark Themselves Up a Passing Grade

State Gives Failing Schools Perfect Grades For Paperwork

The Debate Over School Rankings

Michigan Department of Education Response To Mackinac Center 'Top to Bottom' Study

Study: Michigan School Rankings Mostly Measure Poverty, Not Quality

Flawed State Rankings Mean Some Principals Are Out of a Job

State Report Card Ranks Some Top Schools Near the Bottom

Meet James Hohman, Assistant Director of Fiscal Policy at the Mackinac Center. James discusses his latest project, an analysis of Proposal 1, the proposal on personal property tax reform that will appear on the August 5th ballot. Read more about Proposal 1 here: http://www.mackinac.org/20246


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