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NCLB Outrages

Michigan School Chief Explains Relationship with NCLB

I respectfully disagree with your opinion published in a July 24 editorial entitled "Feds catch state cheating on school tests."

In April, Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm and I jointly announced a plan to assist 216 of Michigan's public schools that were identified as not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the federal measurement of academic achievement. At the time, this list was absolutely accurate based on the State Board of Education's accepted AYP definition, on the books since 1997, several years before the No Child Left Behind Act was even a twinkle in President Bush's eye.

In June, the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) notified us that our definition was not acceptable. After conversations with USDOE officials, opinions in our favor from a Washington law firm well-versed in the No Child Left Behind Act, and advice from Sandy Kress, one of the architects of this new law, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) elected to accept the federal definition that schools need to make AYP for two consecutive years.

Although MDE could have challenged this ruling, we instead decided that it was best for all of Michigan's students to move beyond a "numbers game," as The Times so aptly put it, and focus, laserlike, on helping schools get themselves off the list.

The schools identified last month are doing the things necessary for success. The difference in opinion between the Michigan Department of Education and the federal government does not change this truth.

Simply put, these 544 schools - including six in Bay County - have made Adequate Yearly Progress as required by federal mandate - for one year. It is our hope - with the hard work of Michigan's teachers - that many of these schools identified as making AYP for one year will come off the revised list scheduled for public review within the next month.

In fact, Eastside Middle School in Bay City has already been removed from the list because it was using the wrong school code to identify itself.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act also requires that all our schools make AYP throughout all student subgroups. That means that educators must ensure that all students, regardless of race, poverty, or disability, make progress toward proficiency.

In June 2001, soon after being named Superintendent of Public Instruction, I concluded that the state's school accreditation system was flawed. It left the majority of our neighborhood public schools without a definable quality status.

To solve these problems, the State Board of Education and the Michigan Department of Education have designed a new, online, easy-to-understand School Report Card - replacing the old, antiquated system - that reflects the notion that a classroom teacher's primary responsibility is that of teaching children. We cannot allow the magic and miracle of teaching to be driven by a single test.

The reconstruction of the state's accreditation system - meshed with federal requirements - has ensured that we have high academic standards for all children and that we measure more than a single test on a single day. Under federal law, all students must succeed. Issues such as poverty and race will not be excuses that will impede learning in Michigan.

The fact of the matter is that after the first school district report cards are released, we will still have hundreds of schools across this state not doing well enough on state tests, especially among African American, Hispanic, and Native American student populations.

The report of a school's progress is a positive tool that will be used to enhance and improve individual student learning.

We must all continue to develop a shared vision and common agenda that lifts up all of our children and helps all our children succeed to world-class standards. It can and will be done if we decide today to work together toward this end. Only together will we ensure that all our children receive the education they need and deserve.

- Tom Watkins is the superintendent of public instruction at the Michigan Department of Education in Lansing.

— Tom Watkins
Education Department is focused on helping schools make yearly progress
Bay City Times
August 3, 2003


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