Detroit — Education officials in Detroit said Monday they are "exploring how to move forward" on development of an A-F rating system for Detroit schools while state education officials await a legal opinion on whether a school rating system violates federal law.

Members of the Community Education Commission, the organization tasked with development and approval of a letter grade system for Detroit's charter and traditional public schools, met Monday night for a board meeting but declined to publicly discuss the status of the system under development since last fall.

"We are still exploring how to move forward in light of statewide A-F," said Katie Rae Stolper, director of operations and accountability for the commission.

The system was to be finalized by December — first approved by the commission and then by the state — so schools know what they are being graded on, commission officials said in October.

Bill DiSessa, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education, confirmed Monday that the department is in discussions with the state Attorney General’s Office to determine whether the new statewide A-F accountability system violates federal law.

A Dec. 18 letter by interim state Superintendent Sheila Alles, who opposes the new system, raised legal concerns before the law was approved by both chambers and signed by the governor last month.

Alles said the new law exempts special education students from the participation rate in the state's assessment, which would violate federal disability education laws. The new law omits alternative education campuses from the system and would violate federal education law, Alles said.

The Community Education Commission, formed by Mayor Mike Duggan to ensure access to Detroit schools, began development of the Detroit grading system last fall in a collaboration with public school officials, charter schools, teachers, organized labor and community groups. 

The Detroit-only accountability system, a mandate attached to a $617 million state bailout of Detroit Public Schools in 2016, will focus predominantly on student growth and allow schools in the city to use different tests to measure growth, education leaders say.

The first set of grades from the Detroit system were expected to be based on two-years averages from the current 2018-19 school year and the previous year as required by the state, commission officials said.

The accountability system will assign a letter grade to each public school  based on a point scale of 0 to 100. There are 106 schools at Detroit Public Schools Community District and 60 charter schools in the city.


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