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Article of Interest - Michigan News

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Bridges4Kids LogoSchools To Be Graded
by Ray Kisonas, Monroe Evening News, November 25, 2003
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State Supt. Tom Watkins of the Michigan Department of Education talks to a room of educators Monday night at the Monroe County Intermediate School District. A group of officials came to town to talk about the upcoming grades for schools. State officials in county to explain school performance guidelines.

Some report cards are expected to come out in January, but they won't be grading students. The letter grades will be given out to schools to determine how well the schools are doing in education.

Michigan Department of Education officials, including state Supt. Tom Watkins, visited Monroe County Monday to detail the criteria that will be used to grade school performance. Such data include Michigan Educational Assessment Program scores and the amount of involvement families dedicate to their children's education.

Mr. Watkins told a gathering of local educators at the Monroe County Intermediate School District that the Michigan Department of Education decided on using a letter system similar to how students are graded because it is a system most recognized by the public.

Accountability, generally supported by educators, also is necessary to fulfill rules created by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.

"We needed something the average person can look at and understand," Mr. Watkins said. "Our goal is to find a way to make these laws work for the 1.7 million children who get up every morning and go to school every day."

The panel of state education officials included Temperance resident Dr. Herbert Moyer, vice president of the state board of education, and Dr. Jeremy Hughes, chief academic officer of the Michigan Department of Education.

They discussed the details of the school grading system to a roomful of Monroe County superintendents, principals and other educators.

Standards achieved through the state's Education Yes! system also should fulfill the state's NCLB regulations by merging the two plans, Mr. Watkins said.

"We have high rigorous standards in Michigan," Mr. Watkins said. "We don't want to back away from that."

Part of the state accreditation system includes grading schools and those results are planned for release to the public Jan 30. Each building will receive four letter grades in the following areas:

-- MEAP scores

-- Changes in MEAP scores

-- School performance indicators that include such categories as curriculum alignment, teacher quality, arts education, family involvement, student attendance and building facilities.

-- An overall grade.

The overall grade will be determined by combining 67 percent of the MEAP results with 33 percent of the grade encompassing the school performance indicators.

The system is complicated and one category - MEAP change - appeared to raise the most eyebrows. In his attempt to explain the MEAP change category, Dr. Hughes used an example of a school that scored in the high 80s on a MEAP test in one year but dropped slightly the next. Because of that decrease, the school received an F in the MEAP change category.

That did not sit well with several of those in the crowd.

"I think it's a very bad piece of formula," said Richard Gunn, Whiteford High School principal. "I think it's too confusing."

Mr. Watkins answered by saying that the system still is in the tweaking phases. He seemed to agree with Mr. Gunn.

"We'll have to find ways to modify that," he said.

The grades were supposed to be released to the public by now but about 1,200 schools in the state - many from the Monroe County region - appealed their grades. Mr. Watkins said he does not consider the public release date of Jan. 30 a delay.

"I'm not going to put them out until it's right," he said. "We're human. There are going to be mistakes."

Perhaps the two most daunting goals of NCLB facing educators are the 95 percent student participation rate in the MEAP test and getting 100 percent of students to score proficient in those tests. But Dr. Hughes said it is not impossible.

"A lot of people are bashing No Child Left Behind, saying they'll never get 100 percent student proficiency," he said. "But our goal has always been to get our kids above that middle line. It is possible. It is conceivable."

The two-hour session, called "Listen and Learn," was intended to give local educators a chance to discuss federal and state laws with their brethren in Lansing. By coming to Monroe, the troupe of state officials completed its 10th such community visit.

Their message in its most simplistic form was to remind educators that laws are laws and they must be followed. But Mr. Watkins also acknowledged that he needs local educators' input to fine-tune those rules the best way possible.

"We don't know everything in Lansing," he said. "But we're trying to do the best we can."


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