When Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins took office in
May of 2001, one of the tasks he faced was to put in place a new school
accreditation system crafted by outgoing Superintendent Arthur Ellis to comply
with a legislative mandate. The plan-a get-tough policy aimed at whipping into
shape a large number of Michigan schools and school districts that had been
allowed to founder and fail-was scheduled to go into effect in the fall of 2001.
State officials estimated that some 1,000 schools might receive "Fs" under the
Ellis plan. When he took office, Watkins took the unexpected step of scrapping
the plan, saying it relied too heavily on Michigan Education Assessment Program
(MEAP) achievement test scores, and would unfairly declare schools "failing."
Watkins' move was criticized in the legislature and by Gov. John Engler as being
an attempt to scrap a program that would have forced Michigan schools to
Despite the critics, Watkins crafted his own plan, which he unveiled in
December, presented it to the State Board of Education Feb. 14, and was adopted
by the board by a vote of 5 to 1 on March 14. After several hours of discussion,
the Board accepted a revised version of "Education Yes! A Yardstick for
Excellent Schools." This new system had been tweaked to align with the federal
government's recently passed No Child Left Behind Act. It will measure such
things as teacher quality, building quality, and use of technology, and will
employ a weighted student achievement scoring system based on average MEAP
scores and MEAP participation.
As required by law, state house and senate education committees have allowed the
plan to move forward. Under the plan provisions, no schools will start out
without accreditation, and the grades schools receive will not be as strongly
tied to student scores on the MEAP.
State Board of Education Secretary Michael David Warren, Jr. voiced his concern
with the plan to Watkins at the March 14 hearing, standing behind the plan
crafted by Ellis, although he has consented to the new plan. "Every day we wait
means another day we lose as we attempt to assist chronically under-performing
school buildings and all of Michigan's children," he said.
The new plan assigns a grade to each school building in the state. Each school
will receive a letter grade for each of six individual measures and will receive
a composite or aggregate grade which determines their accreditation status. The
grades to be assigned are: A, B, C, D/Alert and Unaccredited. According to the
plan, if individual schools lose their accreditation status, the school will be
given notice prior to public release of the information.
The Education Yes! plan establishes the following goals:
All Michigan elementary and middle school children will read independently and
use math to solve problems at grade level;
All Michigan students will experience a year of academic growth for a year of
All Michigan high school students, in addition to demonstrating high academic
achievement, shall follow a curriculum that will prepare them for post-high
During the lengthy debate over components of the plan, the State Board of
Education debated the cut-off scores for each letter grade, the weight each of
the various measures will carry in the total score for each school, and whether
or not a traditional bell curve should be used to evaluate test and school
Under the plan, approximately one-third of the score to be assigned to a school
will be based on a set of "school performance indicators" such as teacher
quality, professional development, attendance and dropout rates, availability of
summer school personnel, parental involvement, school facilities, and learning
opportunities for students and their families.
The remaining two-thirds of a school's score will be based on student
achievement scores on the MEAP, weighted based on an average of MEAP scores and
progress over time.
Some education reform advocates still think Watkins should not have thrown out
the Ellis plan, which could already have been improving schools following its
scheduled implementation last fall.
The new plan language gives schools time to appeal before being labeled as
"unaccredited." But the plan offers few penalties or consequences should a
school become unaccredited. The only explicit penalty is a denial of the new
funding from the federal "No Child Left Behind" Act-until the school works out a
plan for re-accreditation with the state Board of Education.
The first official grades for schools are expected to be released in December of
2002 or by spring of 2003.