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Review: Michigan’s education plan lacks clarity

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Michigan’s K-12 education plan lacks the clarity and detail necessary to give the state the best opportunity to improve outcomes in the classroom, according to a first-of-its-kind, independent peer review of state education plans released Tuesday.

The review is a joint project between Bellwether Education Partners, an educational consultant in Washington, D.C., and the Collaborative for Student Success, a nonprofit.

The organizations asked 30 national, bipartisan K-12 education experts to review 17 state accountability plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in April and May as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.

Michigan’s K-12 plan lacked fundamental information in all of the nine categories evaluated, said Jim Cowen, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success.

The state received its highest score — 3 out of 5 — in the standards and assessments category. The review says in this category, Michigan’s plan is based on strong standards as adopted by the state, “though it does not provide much information” about the alignment of its new assessments with the state’s standards and college and career readiness.

“As such, the rigor of Michigan’s standards and assessments is unclear. The state should be commended for proposing to include science and social studies as part of its assessment portfolio,” Cowen said.

“Our goal is to provide constructive, straightforward information to the public so that parents and advocates are better informed to engage with their state policymakers.”

Martin Ackley, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education, said on Tuesday that Michigan’s ESSA plan was developed with input from thousands of Michigan stakeholders across the state over nearly a year’s time.

“The federal law gives unparalleled control to states to develop an education plan that each state believes is the best for the students in that state. While we appreciate the review by Bellwether, or any other outside organization, the review that matters most is that being done by the U.S. Department of Education,” Ackley said.

The project used the expertise of more than 30 bipartisan state and national experts to capture the strengths and weaknesses of each state’s plan. The review said Michigan can improve in other areas including goals, academic progress, supporting schools and selecting an accountability system.

According to reviewers, Michigan’s plan has proposed three accountability systems: An A-F rating system that combines measures into one overall rating for each school, an A-F rating system that reports component grades of each of six measures but does not compile those into one overall grade; or a “dashboard” that reports raw data but does not attempt to rate schools on any of the components or overall.

“Michigan states that all three of these options would include subgroup data, but only the first option would meet ESSA’s requirements that states identify schools with low subgroup performance as in need of additional support,” the review says.

Because Michigan has not settled on which of the three options it plans to pursue, “it remains unclear if it would create sufficient incentives for schools to care about both proficiency and growth,” the reviewers said.

The Collaborative for Student Success launched a website to provide states and advocates with additional feedback and guidance on the results of the extensive peer review. The site highlights strong plan components across the states while also shining a light on how each state’s plan can be even stronger, officials said in a statement.

In December 2015, Congress passed ESSA. This new law redirected responsibility for education policy back to states.