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Article of Interest - Michigan

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Bridges4Kids LogoDepartment of Ed Faces $125,000 Fine
MIRS, January 25, 2005
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The Department of Education (MDE) faces a $125,000 fine by the federal government for not turning around the results of the 2004 Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) test for high schools until more than a month into the 2004-2005 school year.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the state must let school officials know if their students' performances on a state standardized test were better than the students of the year prior, a designation known as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Most Michigan high schools opened their doors between Aug. 24-Aug. 30, but schools didn't know until Oct. 8 whether they made AYP or not.

"It is important for parents and students enrolled in Title I schools identified for improvement to know the AYP status of their schools prior to the start of the school year so that they can make informed decisions regarding public school choice and supplemental educational services," wrote U.S. Department of Education Secretary Rod PAIGE to state Superintendent Tom WATKINS last Wednesday.

Since that didn't happen, the feds can take away three percent of the "Title I, Part A administrative funds" it gave Michigan in Fiscal Year (FY) 2004, which equals out to $124,976.

State MDE officials said today they were appealing the fine, arguing that they were caught between a rock and a hard place when it came to meeting the federal deadline. Last year, state law didn't allow the MDE to pass out the MEAP to high school students until 30 days before the end of school, which means that the test had been given out in May for the last seven years.

Under the way state law is crafted, MDE argued that it was logistically difficult to get the scores out by late August. The tests weren't graded until Aug. 1. It took two weeks for the Department of Treasury to determine which students earned a Merit Scholarship.

MDE needed a week to use these test results to craft the Education YES! report cards. Once that was done around Aug. 25, schools are given a two-week window to appeal. That closed in mid-September, after which the MDE needed a few weeks to take care of the appeals before finalizing the grades on Oct. 8. The grades were released publicly Nov. 4.

The state's chief academic officer, Jeremy HUGHES, said the federal government was kept informed and made well aware of Michigan's situation and it was unfortunate that the feds still opted to penalize the state for a situation that he said was beyond its control.

"Our hands were tied by state laws that conflicted with the requirements of the federal law," Hughes said.

MDE successfully lobbied the Legislature to change the law and allow them to test the state's high schoolers in March. The bill was introduced on Sept. 22 and signed into law Nov. 4. Watkins said he was grateful for the Legislature's quick action.

"The Legislature recognized our urgent need for these changes and went into action," Watkins said. "We presented this good news to the (feds) as evidence of our Department's efforts to do whatever we needed to comply with NCLB."

Michigan has until the end of the week to file its appeal, according to Paige's letter. If MDE's reason for missing the deadline doesn't fall within the fed's unspecified criteria for "showing cause" Michigan's school system will be out $125,000.


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