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As deadlines loom for Michigan’s A-F law, state education leaders to request a delay

State education leaders are hoping to convince lawmakers to temporarily halt the rollout of the state’s controversial A-F letter grading accountability system.

That law, signed by former Gov. Rick Snyder in his last days in office in December, requires the Michigan Department of Education to have that system developed by Aug. 1. It also calls for the state to issue letter grades to every school in multiple categories by Sept. 1.

Casandra Ulbrich, the president of the State Board of Education, said during a meeting Tuesday that the Michigan Attorney General’s office has not weighed in yet on a request to review the legality of the law.

Hoping for more time to hear from the attorney general, the education board unanimously approved a resolution to give Ulbrich the OK to have the education department seek extended deadlines. It wasn’t clear how long of an extension would be necessary.

The board and the Michigan Department of Education — which the board oversees — have raised concerns about whether several provisions of the A-F law violate federal regulations.

“They need to go back and do some additional research,” Ulbrich, a Democrat from Rochester Hills, said of the attorney general’s office.

“Even under the best of circumstances, the deadlines [in the law] would be difficult to meet,” Ulbrich said. The outstanding questions about legality, she said, make the deadlines “impossible.”

The education leaders have raised concerns because they say the law — approved during the lame-duck legislative session in December — exempts some alternative schools from receiving letter grades, and it exempts special education students from the state’s participation rate on state exams. That participation rate figures into a school’s grade. They also say the grading mandate conflicts with the state’s existing accountability system that the U.S. Department of Education approved in November 2017. Earlier this year, the board raised concerns about whether the A-F law could cost the state federal funding.

“There’s a lot of questions about clarity of the law,” said board member Tom McMillin, a Republican from Oakland Township.

“As of now we will have two accountability systems that contradict each other,” Ulbrich said. “We need some legal guidance on that. Until we have it, it will be difficult for the department to move forward.”

It’ll be up to lawmakers to agree.

The new law upended a local effort to create an A-F grading system for public schools in Detroit. That system was being designed to take into account the unique issues — including poverty and enrollment instability — facing schools in the city and would have given schools more credit for improvement in student achievement than the state system does.

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