Bill aims to trash Michigan's A-F school grading system

After Michigan shuttered in-person learning at schools statewide during the pandemic, student learning suffered.

Three years after the pandemic shutdowns began, critics say a new bill aims to erase an accountability measure for schools.

House Bill 4116 aims to repeal the requirement that the Michigan Department of Education assigns letter grades and rankings to public schools, compile lists of the lowest-performing schools as determined through those grades and rankings, and implement accountability measures for schools determined to be in the bottom 5% of schools through those grades and rankings.

Rep. Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, said the grading system falls “woefully short.” Koleszar said school officials believe the system is “too simplistic.”

Lawmakers heard bill testimony in the Education Committee.

The index factors for student growth, proficiency, graduation rates, English learner process, attendance rates, advanced coursework completion, post-secondary enrollment, and staffing ratios.

Koleszar said the A-F system doesn’t comply with federal law, but a separate system does, and it confuses parents.

“I think we can all agree that giving parents and families contradictory information within two different systems does nothing productive. In fact, the one thing I can assure you of is that it causes confusion. When you have two rival systems, the choice is clear. The system that does not meet federal standards is the one that should be repealed and HB 4166 does just that.”

Rep. Minority Vice Chair Rep. Jaime Greene, R-Richmond, said she wants to make it easy for parents to know how local schools are performing.

“I guess what I'm looking for is something easier for parents to know how their school is performing,” she told MDE.

MDE advocated for the School Index system, which uses more complex metrics. MDE Legislative liaison Dr. Sheryl Kennedy told lawmakers that the A-F system had good intentions but failed.

“The intent of A-F was to improve the national educational ranking of Michigan; however, the reality is that the state A-F accountability system is redundant, confusing, and pales in comparison to the federally required school index system,” Kennedy said.

The bill would repeal section 392, which currently prohibits a community school district from opening a new school at the same location as a school that was on the lowest-performing list compiled under section 1280g if the proposed new school has substantially the same leadership as the closed lowest-performing school.

Executive Director of The Great Lakes Education Project Beth DeShone opposes the bill.

“Let's be very clear about this - House Bill 4166 is anti-transparency legislation. It's a push to sweep learning loss under the rug, and kids along with it,” DeShone said in a statement. "Beyond school report cards, this legislation would kill numerous additional transparency requirements designed to inform parents and policymakers alike. It's a bill that will exacerbate inequalities, widen the learning gap, and disproportionately punish students in schools that struggle the most."

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