(The Center Square) – The Michigan Senate has joined lower chamber colleagues and voted to scrap the A-F grading system used to evaluate public schools.
Lawmakers approved House Bill 4116 on a party-line vote of 20-18 on Wednesday. The bill moves to the desk of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
The bill aims to repeal the requirement that the Michigan Department of Education assigns letter grades and rankings to public schools; compile lists of the lowest-performing schools as determined through those grades and rankings; and implement accountability measures for schools determined to be in the bottom 5% of schools through those grades and rankings.
The House passed the bill 63-45 in March.
Rep. Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, said the grading system falls “woefully short” and doesn’t comply with federal law.
“I think we can all agree that giving parents and families contradictory information within two different systems does nothing productive,” Koleszar said in previous testimony. “In fact, the one thing I can assure you of is that it causes confusion. When you have two rival systems, the choice is clear. The system that does not meet federal standards is the one that should be repealed and HB4166 does just that.”
However, Republicans in the minority say the change will make it harder for parents to evaluate their children’s schools.
“An effective education is critical to a child’s future success, yet this bill does nothing to help kids learn, address learning loss due to the pandemic or improve student performance,” Sen. Joe Bellino, R- Monroe, said in a statement. “Rather than helping empower parents to make informed decisions about their children’s education, the Democrats are trying to repeal a transparent and easy-to-use system that allows parents to see how well their local schools are doing.”
Michigan’s current system assigns a letter grade ‘A’ through ‘F’ to several areas of school performance, including proficiency in reading and math, student growth, graduation rates, and a school’s performance in comparison with its peers.
Bellino said Democrats are ridding school accountability measures three years after many students experienced learning loss from COVID-19 shutdowns. For example, a 2016 law that required third graders to repeat the grade if they are testing more than one grade level behind has been eliminated.
The 2022 Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress says about 41.6% of third graders tested proficient in English Language Arts, down from 42.8% in 2021 and 45.1% in 2019. The pandemic impacted the U.S. with school shutdowns, and other measures, beginning in March 2020.
“I’m deeply disappointed that Senate Democrats continue to prioritize protecting teachers and administrators over helping ensure our students get the education they need,” Bellino said. “With testing showing that Michigan’s average scores fell by more than twice the national average last year, it is unconscionable that they are lowering academic standards and reducing accountability.”