Michigan drops planned A-F grades for schools

David Eggert
Associated Press

Lansing — Michigan’s state superintendent is dropping a plan to give a letter grade to every public school and, barring legislative action, instead will issue a report card showing indicators such as each school’s proficiency on the state exam.

Superintendent Brian Whiston had intended to develop the A-F grading system as part of an effort to make Michigan, which has lost ground nationally, a top-10 state for education. But the concept is controversial and has been questioned by many in the education community.

Two officials who were briefed by Whiston — State Board of Education member Tom McMillin and Michigan Association of School Administrators Executive Director Chris Wigent — told the Associated Press the state Department of Education’s default accountability plan will be a “dashboard” format with no grades. Michigan’s draft plan to comply with the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act had proposed A-F grades.

A Whiston spokesman declined to comment but said he most likely will talk about the issue at the next state board meeting Tuesday.

Michigan publishes a top-to-bottom percentile ranking for each school and issues a color-coded scorecard that shows how its students fared on the state assessment, the graduation rate and other factors.

McMillin, a Republican who joined the board in January, said “more damage than good” would come from an A-F system. He said it would force schools to continue focusing less on music, art and other classes that foster creativity.

“A to F just increases the high-stakes nature of the one exam, and it’s more teaching to the test,” he said.

Wigent spoke with Whiston last week and then, with his blessing, emailed dozens of local superintendents and others to outline Whiston’s new thinking. He will present three options. One would give each school an overall grade and grades in various categories; another would issue grades in the categories only; and the third would publish a dashboard-style scorecard on every school.

The dashboard system will be the default unless the Legislature votes to switch to letter grades.

The news was welcomed by advocates who lobbied against the A-F proposal.

“We are pleased the State Board of Education and state superintendent have listened to the advice of front-line education leaders by rejecting the failed concept of giving letter grades to schools,” said Mark Burton, executive director of the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education, which represents school districts in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

School-choice advocates who want letter grades criticized the reversal, saying Michigan will lack a meaningful accountability system.

“We grade students; why not schools?” said Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, which represents charter schools. “This is an awful decision, and we urge the state to reconsider.”