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Michigan will have two separate accountability systems for its K-12 schools, which is the result of lame-duck legislation conflicting with federal education law.

Michigan already had an accountability system in place under the Every Student Succeeds Act when state lawmakers in December passed a new state A-F accountability system in the early morning hours of a lame-duck session.

Martin Ackley, a spokesman with the Michigan Department of Education, said MDE staff quickly began exploring options to create a single accountability system through amendments or waivers to Michigan’s federal ESSA plan.

"After multiple conversations with officials at the U.S. Department of Education, they have confirmed that the system required by state law will not conform with the federal law requirements," Ackley said. "The result is Michigan schools will be subject to two stand-alone accountability systems, with similar, but slightly different criteria for identification of low-performing schools."

Each system will operate independently of the other, Ackley said, and details of the second system will be provided over the coming months.

Ackley said MDE experts have been working to develop this second statewide system of accountability measurements for determining letter grades and rankings for schools. On Thursday, MDE officials shared details for the proposed system with a peer review panel, as required by the state law.

By Aug. 15, the panel is required to submit its findings to the state education department and to the standing committees having jurisdiction over education legislation in the Michigan Senate and House, Ackley said.

Ackley said on Thursday the information shared with the panel is "draft working documents that are advisory in nature and are preliminary to a final determination and action, thus not available to the public at this time."

The actual designations in the A-F system will be calculated using data from the 2018-19 school year, which are not available until after Sept. 1, Ackley said.

"MDE is committed to delivering quality, relevance and clarity in the state’s A-F grading system," Ackley said. "The department’s plan and timeline for implementation keep us on track to publish the results of the system within the 2019-2020 school year."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Rice, who took office on Thursday, has said he opposes the dual accountability system created when state lawmakers passed the A-F grading system during the lame-duck session in December. 

The state's accountability system under ESSA removed "Top-to-Bottom" school ranking

and school scorecard color rating. It created partnerships between the state, districts and schools to improve student achievement.

Doug Pratt, a spokesman for the Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teacher's union, said MEA opposed the A-F legislation passed in December precisely because of its inconsistency with federal law. 

"We warned lawmakers that this would cause a confusing situation with two separate accountability systems because of conflicts with ESSA," Pratt said.

"We need to work together to find a system that makes sense for students, parents, educators and communities," Pratt said. "This new, added confusion won’t help anyone determine what support our schools need to ensure every student gets the quality education they deserve."

Brian Gutman, director of external relations at the nonprofit Education Trust-Midwest, said school accountability is important for informing parents and the public and prompting necessary change.

“It's important that a single, clear and actionable system be implemented to prompt action and improvement for Michigan students," Gutman said. "

“... We hope that in the coming months, Michigan will build on the strengths of Michigan's already strong accountability system — which was put into place more than two years ago — and strengthen it to implement the new A to F system that the Legislature has called for," Gutman said.

Beth DeShone, executive director of the Great Lakes Educational Project, said Michigan’s A-F school accountability law is intended to provide transparent, data-driven information to parents, educators and taxpayers about how schools are performing.

“Every Michigan student receives report cards to provide families with information on their progress. They deserve the same information about the school building,” DeShone said.

“The Michigan Department of Education may choose to create confusion because the federal plan requires some different information, but there is no reason that should stop them from providing that information in a more transparent fashion for parents.”

jchambers@detroitnews.com

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