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Last Updated: 02/01/2018

 Article of Interest - Education YES!

State Board of Ed Trying to Determine At-Risk Schools Measures
Gongwer News Service, September 12, 2002
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The State Board of Education spent much of the day Thursday merely positioning itself for discussions that could take it through two more meetings in October before members can iron out which schools in the state are falling behind and need assistance or sanctions to get them moving.

The board Thursday received an outline for a proposed grading system under the new Education YES accreditation system to be rolled out in December as well as proposals for determining which schools should be placed on a list of schools identified for improvement under the new federal No Child Left Behind Act. And they heard why it may be difficult, if not impossible, to meld the two together.

The Department of Education has fallen under criticism first from school officials when an initial list of schools identified for improvement included some 1,500 elementary and middle schools out of about 4,000 buildings. But then education reform advocates slammed the board for trying to weaken state educational standards after discussions of changing the state standard for adequate yearly progress (AYP) to more closely mirror the federal minimum and so reduce the number of schools on the list

But at least half of the eight-member board agreed Thursday with a staff recommendation to change the yearly progress standard, reducing the number of buildings on the improvement list from 2,068 based on current Michigan Educational Assessment Program results, to as few as 523.

The proposed standard would list only schools in the 20th percentile, those whose average score is within the bottom 20 percent of all MEAP results. Staff also recommended using only the mathematics and reading scores, the only tests required by the federal law, and dropping the science, writing and social studies scores. Putting those tests back in raised the number of schools in the target to 575.

"It seems to me we need to set up some separate standard for failing, otherwise we're saying if you're average you're failing," said Board Vice President Sharon Gire (D-Clinton Township). "We're not talking about changing our accreditation standards. What we're debating is whether we give them what they wanted."

But some board members still feared eroding the state's academic standards. "We need to have a high school diploma that means something," said board member Eileen Wieser (R-Ann Arbor).

And department officials noted that the schools on the list would share $2.7 million for teacher training programs, so reducing the number would allow for more funding per school.

Board member John Austin (D-Ann Arbor) led the charge for trying to join that standard with the Education YES standards also being discussed next month, but at many points was shot down. He argued that the state should be able to list only the schools that would fall into the D-Alert and unaccredited categories on the accreditation system as identified for improvement on the federal list.

"Let's have one system that's the right system so we're using the sanctions in the right place where we want them and we're using the incentives in the right place," Mr. Austin said.

But Dorothy VanLooy with the department said the federal statute cares only what a school's yearly progress is, not what its state accreditation grade is. "The federal legislation does not allow us to box them out like that," she said.

The melding also is working from federal to state, as the accreditation advisory committee is expected to present proposals for grading schools that would in part be based on the federal standards. Education YES looks at both a school's current scores, averaged over three years, and its improvement over time. Committee Chair Phillip Kearney said the committee would be recommending grades for improvement based on the 12-year, 100 percent proficient standard in No Child Left Behind.

While the grading for current scores will be similar to that for students, Mr. Kearney said the change grades will be based on how close schools can stay to the improvement slope needed to reach all students scoring in the proficient range. Consideration would also be given to grades from elementary schools, where the first test is administered, feeding into middle schools.

But while the MEAP portion of Education YES may be in place for scores to be released in December, Mr. Kearney indicated that the performance indicators, such as graduation rate and parent participation, may not be ready in time. He said the department staff has yet to develop a pilot document to collect the information needed and to be sure that information can truly be tied to school performance before questioning all schools and releasing the information.

An official decision on how to proceed will come next month after the board's Accreditation Advisory Committee makes its official recommendation on cut scores for schools on the MEAP portions of the accreditation system, but Board Secretary Michael Warren (R-Beverly Hills) warned that not releasing anything in December could mean the end of the board's authority over accreditation.

While other board members appeared to agree with Mr. Warren on moving forward, there also appeared a consensus behind Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins that if the accreditation system is not defensible by December that it not be released.

Mr. Warren, who noted the board set a December deadline for reporting initial scores because of pressure from the Legislature, said, "If we have to release scores on two-thirds of the test, I would prefer to do that than wait another six months." He argued that the new governor and Legislature coming in January will look at the board's performance on accreditation as an indicator of how much credibility and authority it should get in the coming two years.

But Mr. Watkins said the department and board needs to look carefully at the final product before releasing it, because the governor and the Legislature are not the only ones that could attempt to diminish the board's authority. "It needs to be defensible and not something that we're going to be backing away from," he said. "We can fully expect those communities that think they're As, when they get their Bs, are going to be back in here with the governor and the Legislature challenging what we did."

And Mr. Watkins said it would not be fair to fault the department for not making the December deadline given the enormity of the task and the loss of budget and staff. "It's disingenuous for people to talk about us not getting it done in a year when it hasn't gotten done for years," he said.

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