Parents join Kalamazoo district’s plan to sue Michigan

Associated Press

Kalamazoo — Several parents are joining a planned lawsuit against Michigan’s School Reform Office targeting its threats to close two low-performing Kalamazoo schools.

Kalamazoo Public Schools and nine parents contend that the state office lacks the legal authority to determine if the two schools should close. The office recently threatened to close the Washington Writers’ Academy and the Woodward School for Research and Technology for poor performance.

The local school board gave Superintendent Michael Rice authorization last week to sue the state office. Rice intends to file the lawsuit this week in the Michigan Court of Claims.

A notice from the School Reform Office recently informed parents of students who attend the two schools that after three years of being ranked among the lowest-achieving Michigan institutions, the schools are at risk of being shut down.

The state office evaluates schools based on their performance on the M-STEP, a state test introduced during the 2014-15 school year. That exam replaced the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, better known as the MEAP, which had been Michigan’s longtime standardized testing program.

Rice and other school officials have criticized the test as a poor indicator of student performance based on its relative youth when compared to previous evaluation measures. He said the state office “has a narrow definition of success.”

“It’s a new state test, it’s a wobbly state test and one the department of education clearly indicated should not be used for high-stakes decision making until proven to be reliable and valid,” Rice said.

Brianna Wolverton, whose son struggled with behavioral issues before transferring to Washington Writers’ Academy, plans to join the district’s lawsuit. She said her son is thriving at the school in all areas.

“We’ve had constant conversations about how he is not a failure and how the school is not a failure at all,” she said.

Dara and Jim Seaman said they chose the Woodward School for Research to expose their daughter to a diverse learning environment. Jim Seaman called it “hands down” the best decision for their family.

He delivered a petition with about 2,000 signatures to the School Reform Office in Lansing, asking the state to remove the two schools from the office’s priority school and next level accountability lists.