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A good race requires preparation

_The following action alert was sent out to MIPFS subscribers today._

Lets think clearly about the changes we make to qualify for Federal funding

Dear supporters of public education, This has been a busy fall for all of us at Michigan Parents for Schools, and you have have heard less from us than usual given the turmoil around education funding in Michigan. You will be hearing much more from us soon! But there is a fast-approaching issue which we wanted to bring to your attention today. Our main concern is that rapidly cobbled-together measures, designed to qualify Michigan to receive further Federal stimulus funding, will make permanent changes to our schools that have not received adequate consideration. We are especially concerned with the emphasis put on standardized testing as the primary measure of student achievement and the major factor in evaluating teachers, administrators and schools. You may have heard of the Federal "Race to the Top" fund competition - it's a competition among states for a pot of Federal money that the US Dept. of Education wants to use to reward efforts at effective education reform. Among other things, the feds want states to create policies regarding intervening in failing schools, relax some certification requirements to let new teachers into the system sooner (aimed at people changing careers), encourage the use of charter schools to experiment with educational strategies, and to include evaluations of student achievement and growth in the performance reviews of teachers and administrators. While the money from the competition will only go to a limited number of states, states must also meet the same requirements to qualify for the second round of State Budget Stabilization support authorized by the ARRA act. Michigan could qualify for a further $400 million in education spending support. Our legislature has been racing to change state law to match the federal requirements for "RTTT" and second round stimulus spending. (To see the outline of what the feds want states to do, see the Dept. of Education summary here.) As any track athlete will tell you, a successful race requires an enormous amount of preparation. But since the Dept. of Education did not release the final rules until mid-November, and the deadline for applications is in early January, states such as Michigan have had little time to give serious thought to the changes they are being asked to make. The funding will be awarded once, but the changes we make will be permanent. Our largest concern? The draft legislation pending in the State House would accentuate the Feds' emphasis on standardized tests and make them the main way of evaluating teachers, administrators and schools. The Feds want teachers and schools evaluated based in "significant" part on measures of student achievement and growth. Fair enough. They define "student achievement" as performance on state mandated tests, or other measures equally "rigorous and comparable across classrooms" for non-tested subjects. "Student growth" means changes in those test scores. Setting aside the question of how we would test for student achievement and growth in, say, elementary art and music, this puts a huge burden on the quality and reliability of standardized testing. It also pushes us into the position of saying that the results we care most about are those that can be tested. *But is the point of education to do well on tests, or is it to have children reach their potential and become productive citizens of our communities?* Given the checkered history of standardized testing, and how so many test measures do not accurately predict long term success in life, we at MIPFS are concerned that we are heading full speed down the wrong road. Legislation currently pending before the House Education committee, HB 5623 makes matters worse by insisting that evaluations of teachers and schools must be based at least 60% on these tests. In other words, testing means almost everything. I believe we can all see how this will do a disservice to our children, our schools and our community. Standardized tests can be helpful, if used and interpreted correctly. The Federal rules were intentionally vague about what "significant" meant precisely because they did not want to enforce a rigid formula. But a requirement that test results be the main factor in evaluations sets up the incentive for teachers and schools to teach to the test rather than educate our children for the future. Is this what we want for our children, our communities, or our State? Michigan Parents for Schools normally focuses on funding issues, so we are not ready to support or oppose legislation in this complex area. But we do encourage everyone who cares about Michigan's schools to let their state representatives know what they think about the proposed changes, including the emphasis on standardized testing as the primary yardstick for measuring our children's education. Please use the tools on our Legislative Action Center to get your voice heard in Lansing. Steven Norton Executive Director Michigan Parents for Schools



The House Education committee made several changes to the bill before reporting it out to the full House. *Version H-2 of the bill removes the 60% threshold for standardized metrics in the evaluation of teachers and administrators. The new language requires that such measures be a "significant" portion of the evaluation, language that echoes the Federal RTTT standards.*

MIPFS supports the bill as amended, because it allows local districts flexibility in implementing the measure while still setting standards and goals for the improvement of the evaluation process.

We'll be changing our action alert to reflect these changes. However, we will continue to urge all supporters of public education to ask their lawmakers to pass final legislation that gives local districts as much flexibility as possible in implementing the new requirements. Metrics such as standardized tests can be useful tools, but they are far from perfect and cover only a limited number of subjects (and teachers). Evaluation of teachers and administrators should include broader measures of education, to reflect the fact that a well-educated citizenry is our final goal - not simply good test scores.

Moreover, our state will benefit from learning what works best, and what options work well, by allowing local districts to find their own way in the implementation of these measures. A hastily-written "one size fits all" solution is poor policy and would have detrimental effects on our schools.

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