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Michigan Asks for Changes so More Schools Meet Federal Standards

LANSING -- Hundreds of Michigan schools would avoid the school-quality hot seat next year, under proposed charges to the state's plan for meeting federal standards.

The State Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to seek approval for the changes from the U.S. Department of Education that would make it easier for Michigan schools to meet academic standards required under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Requests for changes in the state's plan are due April 1.

Without the changes, the state Department of Education estimated that 1,444 schools next year, up from 861 this year, would not make Adequate Yearly Progress.

That would label 40 percent of the state's schools as failing to meet standards.

With the changes, an estimated 762 schools, or 21 percent, would not make AYP.

The changes allow a "reliability factor" that gives schools a range of scores, based on the potential for statistical errors, rather than just a single composite score on state tests. The range will push many above the cutoff scores required to make AYP.

Acting state Superintendent Jeremy Hughes said the changes are warranted because schools face growing consequences the longer they fail to meet federal standards.

"Because the stakes are getting higher, and the consequences more severe, we want to pay close attention to the issue of how accurate and how reliable are the test scores,'' he said.

He also said, in a memo to state board members, it would be a good "public relations" move.

Beginning with state tests taken this year, schools must step up the number of students passing tests in each subject by 10 percentage points. That's driving the anticipated leap in the number of troubled schools.

More than 30 other states use such adjustments for errors in their state plans for measuring AYP, the department reported. Michigan's adjustment for error would be more conservative than those in other states.

"For the purposes of meeting AYP, we're going to give schools the benefit of the doubt,'' Hughes said.

Board members said they agreed to the plan because it will also put an unknown number of schools near the cutoff line in a new "provisional" category.

Schools now either make AYP or don't. Adding a provisional status will give public notice that schools are close to not making AYP.

"I think putting them on notice would be very valuable,'' said Eileen Weiser, R-Ann Arbor.

The board also voted to seek a change in the number of students counted as subgroups when AYP reports are generated for school districts. Under the federal law, subgroups of students, based on race, disability and income, must also meet the standards. Michigan counts subgroups starting at 30 students in the same grade.

Under the request to the federal government, subgroups would be counted as 1 percent of students in school districts over 3,000 students, capped at 200 students.

The board also authorized Hughes to seek a waiver allowing more Michigan students with severe cognitive impairments to be counted as making progress when tested by MI-Access, an alternative test to the state Michigan Educational Assessment Program.

Federal law requires that only 1 percent of a state's student population be counted toward making AYP by use of an alternative test. The state department estimated that 2.1 percent of Michigan's student population should be included in the alternative testing.

Hughes said the fact that Michigan's K-12 system educates people with disabilities to age 26, longer than other states, means it has a higher percent of students with disabilities.

-- Contact Judy Putnam at (517) 487-8888 x232 or e-mail her at jputnam@boothnewspapers.com.

— Judy Putnam
Booth Newspapers


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