Legislature approves A-to-F letter grades for schools


LANSING — Michigan's Republican-led Legislature has backed letter grades for public schools, narrowly endorsing a statewide accountability structure that would begin in 2019.

The bill approved last night will soon go to Gov. Rick Snyder for his expected signature, capping a years-long GOP effort to shake up a lagging education system by having the state give schools an A, B, C, D or F ranking.

Each school would not receive a cumulative letter grade, however. They instead would be graded by the state Department of Education in five categories: students' overall proficiency on standardized tests in math and English language arts, their growth on those assessments, graduation rates, academic performance compared to schools with similar student populations, and progress for children whose first language is not English.

The new system would start next September and be done each year after that.

The Senate passed the legislation 21-17 with no floor debate. All 11 Democrats and six of 27 majority Republicans voted no. The move came in the final week of a lame-duck session and less than a week after the measure eked through the House in the middle of the night.

"This is yet another instance in which legislators have ignored the needs of our schools and our students to instead push forward with a plan that will only make it harder for schools to succeed," Russell Pickell, superintendent of the Riverview Community School District southwest of Detroit, said in a statement.

Pickell is also past president of the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education, which represents districts in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties. The alliance called for the Republican governor to veto the bill.

Michigan currently publishes an online "parent dashboard" that shows how schools fare on indicators in comparison to similar schools and the state average. It was unveiled 11 months ago and replaced a color-coded scorecard that some had criticized as too confusing.

The measure also would require the Education Department to rank each school as significantly above average, above average, average, below average or significantly below average in specific indicators.

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