News Story

Michigan Department of Education Response To Mackinac Center 'Top to Bottom' Study

While the Michigan Department of Education appreciates the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s interest in Michigan’s school accountability system, we respectfully disagree with recent findings in depicted in an article in CAPCON (“Study:  Michigan School Rankings Mostly Measure Poverty, Not Quality”). The state’s school ranking system noted in the article are not “flawed,” as the story asserts. They are designed to identify specific education thresholds in public schools, and provide transparency from which schools can strategize and improve.

Michigan’s Top-to-Bottom (TTB) list ranks schools on their student academic performance in mathematics, reading, writing, science and social studies, as well as graduation rate data for high schools.  School performance components include student achievement; improvement (growth); and the achievement gaps between the highest and lowest scoring 30 percent of students, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds.

The purpose of the TTB rankings is to identify schools most in need of intervention. That’s mostly a student proficiency issue – that, in some cases, can be correlated with poverty. Schools may compensate for low proficiency with high rates of improvement and small achievement gaps.

There are many schools in Michigan with low-income students that are able to achieve student proficiency and student academic growth. We identify these schools as Beating The Odds schools, which counter the very reasons used in the CapCon article – that low-income students are not able to reach academic proficiency. Low income students actually can, and do, meet academic proficiency levels. That is reality.

Would we like to see more students, and more schools, reach these levels of achievement? Absolutely. It is being done in nearly 70 low-income schools now, and every low-income school would do their students a great service by replicating the strategies in place at these Beating the Odds schools.

The study cited in the article seemingly downplays academic proficiency’s importance in student assessments. We have serious concerns that this would give an escape hatch to schools not able to raise low-income student performance. Further, just because a school is low-income and low-performing does not mean they should be not be held academically accountable. Nor should we lower expectations for such schools. We are certain that the parents and communities want the best education for their children, without excuses.

We challenge many of the claims the study uses in regard to all of the quality measures used to develop the annual TTB list. And we flatly disagree with the center’s assertion that it somehow penalizes schools for their enrollment of low-income students.

Federal Title I funds are designed for the express purpose of improving the achievement of low-income students, and TTB rankings help identify low-performing schools so they can receive targeted, additional resources, support and attention.

We shouldn’t have two standards to hold schools accountable – one for schools with low-income students and one for schools that don’t. That would not be fair for low-income students, who will be competing for the same jobs as everyone else when they graduate.

It can be a challenge to educate children who, for whatever reason, have not had a solid foundation of learning to succeed in school. That's why the state is investing more in early childhood education programs targeted for low-income children; and specific state and federal dollars are earmarked to assist schools with greater numbers of low-income students, as well.

The TTB rankings list, developed in collaboration with a diverse set of education stakeholders, is a useful diagnostic tool. Yet, as with every accountability system designed with input from experts across-the-board, we are open to thoughtful and accurate suggestions. 

Martin Ackley is the Director of the Office of Public and Government Affairs for the Michigan Department of Education.