Michigan will have two accountability systems in place for K-12 schools this fall. The state system, passed during a lame duck session, puts in place a different system of accountability for schools than the one mandated by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.
Here’s the rundown on the two systems:
The Michigan Department of Education created the Michigan School Index in compliance with ESSA. Its ratings take into account a number of factors in order to assess each school. The factors are proficiency (students meeting Michigan’s academic standards determined via standardized testing), student growth (students on the path to proficiency), school quality (absence rates, access to arts education, college enrollment), graduation rate, English learner progress, and participation in standardized tests. These aspects are all weighted differently on a scale of 1-100, and there are no rankings assigned to schools. Schools performing in the bottom 5 percent are designated as Comprehensive Support and Improvement.
The legislation passed in a lame duck session mandates that schools be rated using an A-F letter grade system. The schools are assessed on similar aspects, such as proficiency, growth, English learners growth, and graduation rates. This system also uses state-administered assessments or standardized testing to determine these factors. Where it differs from the Michigan School District is its policy on inclusion of alternative education schools and charter schools. ESSA mandates that these alternative schools be included, but the state law does not. The state system doesn’t have all the categories of assessment mandated by ESSA, either.
Venessa Keesler is the Deputy Superintendent for the Division of Educators, Students, and School Supports at the Michigan Department of Education. She says the main purpose of the accountability systems is to provide data to MDE about which schools need the most help.
“As far as these two systems go, it's about helping the department direct support to schools and districts most in need, and to some level, complying with laws which is part of the statutory requirements for the Michigan Department of Education.”
Keesler says the goal of MDE is to make the process as uncomplicated as possible while still complying with state and federal law.
“Our plan is to run both the federal and the state system at the same time. We’ll run the systems on the same timeline, using the same base data whenever possible, so the same students are being counted in both systems, and do the different calculations and put them out with as much explanation as possible about what each means.” She says there will be a large amount of overlap, but, “anytime you use different algorithms… you get slightly different results. Our goal is to make this as customer service-friendly as possible, even though this is not a situation we wanted or sought after.”
She says the two systems can be confusing for parents, so they should use the Parent Dashboard for School Transparency when looking for information about schools.
Doug Pratt is the director of public affairs for the Michigan Education Association. He says the MEA was opposed to the legislation because it was inconsistent with federal law.
“Everyone in education needs to work together to figure out, how do we create a system, one system, that gives parents the information they need about all the different facets of a school, and doesn't just rely on standardized test scores to put a label on a school building.”
He believes the state system is too reliant on standardized tests as a metric of success.
“We believe the dashboard that existed before all this accomplished the needs for parents and communities to be able to see, ‘what’s going on in my school? What may need to be improved upon?’ Because it included all of those multiple measures.”
Peter Spadafore is the associate executive director for advocacy and communications for the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators. He says ideally, the state would have one unified system, but that would contribute to a lack of consistency.
“Another change means another accountability system, so I guess we’d be up to three, four, or five [systems] in as many years. At some point, the accountability system becomes meaningless if it changes every year or so.” Spadafore says an accountability system can’t tell an accurate story if, say, “I was a B this year, but a green last year, and next year I’ll be ‘meets expectations.’ How does that translate? What are those categories ranking? Because they’re all ranking different issues.”
Both the Michigan School Index and the new system will use data from the 2018-2019 school year to determine their rankings for Michigan schools this fall.