Guest Column

Michigan’s students need an A-F grading system

November 30, 2018
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We are failing Michigan’s students in reading and math. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores from 2017 showed that Michigan has continued a steep decline in progress relative to national averages and other states’ performance since 2005. Michigan ranks last of the Midwest states in every category. Education in Michigan is at crisis levels. This applies to all kids from all backgrounds and walks of life in districts across the state.

Earlier this year, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and Center for Michigan hosted a Solutions Summit, highlighting Michigan’s unique and troubling decline in K-12 achievement over the past decade. The summit was a call to action. It focused on what we can do to move forward together and how all stakeholders play a role in creating solutions to fix our broken system and give our kids the education they deserve.

While the theories and opinions vary on just how we’ve gotten into this situation and how best to address the crisis, there is an underlying agreement of fundamental areas that must be addressed to improve. Highlighted by organizations such as the West Michigan Policy Forum, Education Trust-Midwest and Business Leaders for Michigan, one of these areas is transparent accountability.

Transparent accountability can take several forms. The good news is that a straightforward, easy-to-utilize and understand form currently is in front of our Michigan Legislature — an A-F grading system for all public schools.

House Bill 5526 (Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township) would establish a 13-member Education Accountability Policy Commission tasked with developing an A-F grading system for each public school in six areas: proficiency in math and English Language Arts (ELA), growth in math and ELA, assessment participation rate, growth of English Language Learner students in English, graduation rate and percentage of students who are chronically absent.

In addition to the six letter grades, schools would be ranked, from significantly above average to significantly below average, based on their subgroups compared to that subgroup’s statewide average performance and the school itself compared to similar schools. The specifics of this and the criteria of the grading system would be decided by this 13-member commission and implemented by the Michigan Department of Education.

The Grand Rapids Chamber believes in order to dramatically impact student outcomes and ensure all Michigan kids can successfully participate in a thriving workforce, we need to shed a much brighter, easy-to-understand light on how our schools are performing.

In the meantime, as we wait to see the fate of an A-F grading system, visiting mischooldata.org provides a breakdown of each school by school year. To parents and to community stakeholders, awareness of the school’s ability to provide a high-quality education is critical.

A clear and concise way of knowing where your community’s schools stand calls on all involved — teachers, parents, administrators, community leaders and business professionals — to rally around a solution. This legislation equips us with knowledge so we can all come to the table well informed to find solutions to Michigan’s education crisis. We call on the Legislature to act on House Bill 5526 before the year’s end.

Alexa Rae Kramer is public policy coordinator for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and Holly Windram is executive director of Michigan Education Corps and chairwoman of the chamber’s Education and Workforce Development Committee.

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