Letter: Don’t close schools just because of test scores

Re: Ingrid Jacques’s Oct. 26 Editor’s Note “Poll: Don’t base school closures on tests”: In a new Public School Options poll, 82 percent of surveyed Michigan voters reject both ranking and sanctioning schools based solely on M-STEP scores. There are at least two key ways to satisfy their concerns about school closures.

First, parents recognize that the state’s current top-to-bottom rankings judge schools unfairly by not accounting for the socioeconomic status of students’ families. Since 2012 the Mackinac Center for Public Policy has published school grades that account for student poverty in an effort to more accurately assess school performance.

This data should be incorporated so parents and lawmakers can see which schools are truly failing in raw numbers, in year-to-year student growth, and in demographic comparisons. About 80 percent of the Michigan schools subject to potential closure also received an F on our most recent report card. Those underachieving schools are harder to defend than the smaller number doing a comparatively better job.

Second, as the state moves forward in updating its school accountability system, the new federal education law also requires including one factor outside of standardized testing. A reliable metric of student engagement or school safety could further separate schools that deserve sanction from those that don’t.

The most overwhelming result of the new statewide poll is that 93 percent of Michigan voters want parents to be included on decisions to close schools. Very few issues garner so much support across ethnic and partisan lines.

A public meeting that includes clear presentation of multiple data points and discussions about students’ future learning options is essential. The goal should be to encourage a greater supply of, and demand for, quality schools.

While closing the consistently lowest-performing schools is not a silver bullet to improve education results, there are times when it is called for. But those decisions should include parent voices and be based on better data.

Ben DeGrow, director of education policy

Mackinac Center for Public Policy