News Story

State Dodges Deadline for High Stakes School Performance List

Students could be trapped longer in failing schools

A school reform advocate says the state of Michigan is breaking a 2009 law by not publishing the list of the lowest-achieving public schools for 2015. The law was enacted to make the public school system here eligible for grants under the federal Race to the Top program rewarding states for adopting various reforms.

The law requires the state to publish a list identifying the bottom 5 percent of schools, as measured by student achievement, “not later than September 1 of each year.” In past years, the requirement was met by the Top to Bottom list maintained by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). That list ranks the performance of all public schools, but the department has not updated it since the 2013-14 school year.

The annual updates of the bottom 5 percent schools (dubbed Priority Schools by state officials) are a high-stakes exercise because other sections of the law subject these schools to state supervision that increases in rigor each year a school is on the list. States that fail to improve can be taken over by the state.

There are consequences for failing to update the priority list, for the low-performing schools themselves and potentially for the students enrolled in them.

The duty to maintain the bottom 5 percent list was transferred in March 2013 to a new School Reform Office that Gov. Rick Snyder created in the Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

Department spokesman Caleb Buhs said that this year’s list of worst-performing schools wasn’t released because the state switched to a new testing system.

“The 2014 list identifying the lowest-achieving five percent has been extended to 2015,” Buhs said in an email. “No additional schools were named Priority Schools in 2015. This is due, in large part, to MDE’s federal waiver ‘preventing sanctions’ (i.e., new schools being named as priority schools) due to the change in testing from the MEAP to the MSTEP. One year of test data is not considered statistically valid. The 2015 list used the most recent statistically valid data, which was from 2014.”

But Great Lakes Education Project Executive Director Gary Naeyaert doesn’t agree.

“They shouldn’t be taking the year off from school accountability because we changed our assessment,” Naeyaert said. “The law doesn’t say you ‘may’ produce a list or ‘should’ produce a list. It says ‘you shall’ produce a list. It’s not a request. It’s a requirement.”

Not listing schools that performed poorly on state tests only delays any action the state can take to improve them, Naeyaert said.

“The schools aren’t unhappy about it. Parents are harmed because they are suspending activity that will give meaningful information about school performance that can inform school choice,” Naeyaert said. “What’s everybody talking in Lansing — poor quality schools and what to do about them.”