New metrics reveal schools’ real woes
Standards are everything in education. And for years, Michigan has played games with educational standards that have made them less meaningful, and even outright deceptive.
When the state Board of Education lowered the “cut” scores — the minimum marks required to achieve proficiency on statewide assessment tests — it may have made some students, teachers and administrators feel better about how schools were performing. Suddenly, a lot more Michigan kids were doing proficient work. But the progress wasn’t real. When you compared scores on state tests to how Michigan kids did on national exams, the difference was stunning. More than three-quarters of the state’s students did adequate work on MEAP , but only 30% did so on NAEP. So it was an important step back toward reality last week when the state board reraised cut scores on the MEAP to more closely reflect the standards that children are meeting in other states. But it was just one step. Michigan’s slide backward in educational achievement has been going on for a decade or more, and has touched a lot of different areas that now need attention. Funding is one of them. As the state’s economy went sour, so did its appetite for educational investment. The state has actually been cutting educational funding while other states boost it, and the parallel drop in scores and rankings reflects the cost of that stinginess. Michigan also lags badly in efforts to rescue failing schools. It was just last year that the state announced it would form a recovery district for bad schools and begin to work to make them better. Now lawmakers need to ensure that high standards are enforced in the new district. Other problem areas include Michigan’s antiquated teacher tenure laws, which give school districts too little leverage to get rid of underperforming instructors, and union leaders who have been slow to embrace performance-based metrics. The lower cut scores did a good job of masking how much work there is to do in Michigan’s schools. Now it will be harder to hide the state’s educational deficits. Lawmakers and education officials will have to start doing the hard work of getting Michigan schools to hit the highest marks, according to the most rigorous standards.