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Michigan dumps its school ranking system in favor of "dashboard"

Boy in classroom with his hand raised
Mercedes Mejia
Michigan Radio
A charter advocacy group gives Michigan's charter law a passing grade

Michigan will no longer rank schools based on test scores. The state is working on a new accountability system as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new federal education law that goes into effect this coming school year.

ESSA replaces the controversial No Child Left Behindeducation law, which evaluated schools solely on proficiency (i.e. test scores) and went into effect in 2002. 

The state's currenttop-to-bottom ranking system uses standardized test scores and graduation rates to measure schools. There's a strong correlation between lower socioeconomic status and lower test scores, so critics say the rankings are more a measure of poverty than anything else, and that test scores alone fail to tell the whole story of what's happening in a given school building.

So when the state submitted its ESSA plan to the U.S. Department of Education earlier this spring, it came up with three options for accountability systems: 

  • OPTION 1: An A-F system that produces a cumulative grade for each school
  • OPTION 2: An A-F system that grades schools on six components (proficiency, growth, graduation rate, English learner progress, school quality indicators, and participation in state assessments), b

    ut does not produce a cumulative grade for each school

  • OPTION 3: A dashboard that includes data on the above six components, plus additional data that goes beyond student achievement

In order for the Michigan Department of Education to replace its current top-to-bottom accountability system with the A-F grading system, it would've needed the state legislature to act by June 30, 2017. The state legislature did not act, so MDE is defaulting to the third option for its new accountability system: the dashboard.
Venessa Keesler is MDE's deputy superintendent and is leading the state's ESSA implementation. She says the fact that lawmakers didn't act on the A-F grading system plan is a "positive," because now MDE can move to develop an accountability system for schools that goes beyond test scores. 

The state Board of Education put out a statement detailing which metrics its members would like to see included in the dashboard. Keesler says the categories are a work in progress, but there are some "key priorities" that will definitely be included: student proficiency, student growth, English Language Learner progress, graduation rates, and participation in state assessments.

The dashboard will also likely include:

  • time spent in art, music and physical education and access to library media specialists
  • access to advanced coursework included AP, IB and career tech classes
  • postsecondary persistence rates 
  • percent of high school graduates who are proficient on the SAT

It will also include what Venessa Keesler calls the "crown jewel" of the dashboard: suspension and expulsion data for all students -- separated by subgroup -- so parents can see if there are any discipline disparities. "It's a very big policy shift that could really help us as a state with our school-to-prison pipeline," says Keesler, "so if we use the data in the right way it could really improve services to students in our state."
Currently schools in Michigan are only required to collect and share discipline data for special education students with Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs. Schools across the country are required to send suspension and expulsion data for all students to the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, but only every few years

Federal law requires Michigan's Department of Education to identify the bottom five percent of schools in the state, but it is unclear how MDE will go about identifying those schools without a statewide ranking system. Venessa Keesler says the state is "still discussing our approach to that."

The dashboard will be released in three phases, with the first phase planned to be released in late Fall 2017. Keesler says the state will work with a parent advisory committee and parent focus groups next month to figure out what, specifically, should be included in the dashboard and how it should look. 

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.