Letter: State Board and superintendent differ

Regarding “School Reform Lacks Unified Vision, April 23,” the editorial states: “Whiston had originally backed the concept of letter grades, but last month stepped back from it when the State Board voiced concerns — right before the board was going to evaluate his contract.” That is incorrect.

That inaccuracy had been reported previously — not by talking to me, but just saying that was my position, based on the State Board of Education’s action. Some reporters/editors contacted me to get the correct information. Unfortunately, many have not, and continue to report my position incorrectly.

The correct story is: The State Board of Education took a position (which it has a right to do) to oppose an A-F grading accountability system, and adopted a resolution to support a Transparency Dashboard instead. That means giving information to parents without making a judgment on what the data mean, and allowing parents to make their own decision on what is important, then make school selection on that data. As state superintendent, I support and understand that the State Board can take that position –— even if it means we disagree.

I continue to support an A-F report card for school accountability, which is Option 2 in Michigan’s ESSA plan. This report card would create categories and assign an A-F grade for the schools in each category and, in addition, we also would include a Transparency Report Card that would provide other information to parents (which the State Board supports). This allows grades and transparency reporting, letting parents determine what is important to them.

I have sent letters to the governor and legislative leaders outlining the three options in the ESSA plan: Option 1) A-F summed up in one grade; Option 2) A-F in six different categories; and Option 3) Transparency Dashboard Reporting. In the letter, I have informed the legislature that I support Option 2 and the State Board supports Option 3. I have asked the legislature that, if it wants to have A-F report cards, it needs to pass the law by June 30; if not, then we would implement the State Board’s direction to develop a Transparency Reporting system to be in place for the 2017-18 school year.

I understand that it may be unusual for the State Board of Education and state superintendent to have taken different positions, but we did. My position has been consistent in support of an A-F grading system in categories, with transparency reporting.

Brian Whiston, state superintendent