A-F grades for Mich. schools a tough sell

LANSING (AP) — The debate over publicizing A-to-F grades for every public school in Michigan is not entirely over, despite a surprise decision by top education officials to back away from the proposed system that proponents say has worked elsewhere.

State Superintendent Brian Whiston will default to “dashboard”-style report cards without any letter grades, to replace the current color-coded marks that have come under much criticism. But the caveat remains that the Republican-led Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder, who required letter grades in Detroit as part of a state bailout of the district, could still decide that letter grades should be issued statewide.

It will be a tough sell.

Rep. Tim Kelly, who chairs the House Education Committee and who backs A-to-F grades, said there probably is “not a great appetite” among lawmakers to require the calculation of a single summative grade for each school. But they may vote by summer to require letter grades to be issued in subcategories such as how a school’s students do on the state test compared with others and their progress over time, he said.

“We’re going to have to pick this ball up,” said Kelly, a Saginaw Township Republican who criticized Whiston’s reversal. “Whatever we do has to be simple, transparent and meaningful. … The whole idea was there was no reason to have Detroit as a stand-alone and it should be statewide.”

Whiston reports to the elected, bipartisan State Board of Education and not Snyder. He acknowledged Tuesday at the board’s meeting that he clearly was heading toward implementing letter grades. He personally prefers issuing grades in various subgroups, but not cumulative grades.