Budget on Assessment and Accountability in Michigan

April 17, 2015

By Adrienne Hu

In late March, the Michigan House and the Senate Subcommittees on K-12, School Aid and Education each proposed a budget for the fiscal year of 2015-2016. Both the House budget and the Senate budget marked down the total funding for education from what Governor Rick Snyder outlined in his state budget recommendations in February. The Senate’s budget, despite the slight cut in the proposed total funding, is in many ways similar to the Governor’s plans. However, as analyzed by the Associated Press, the House budget is markedly different than the Governor’s and does not fund many of his top priorities.

In this week’s post, I will outline the budget for assessment and one important aspect of the current accountability framework – educator evaluation, and their implications.

Assessment Budget

The Governor’s executive budget proposed to increase appropriations for 1) the Student Assessment Fee (SAF) to reimburse costs associated with the state’s student assessment requirements; and 2) for summative assessment, especially at K-2 levels in math and English and Language Arts (ELA). While the Senate subcommittee’s budget funds both proposals, the House’s version maintains the overall level of appropriations from the previous fiscal year. In particular, the House did not allocate funding for the Governor’s proposal to determine students’ proficiency prior to grade 3. But all three sides agree to add grade 11 to the grade levels tested for math and ELA. Testing now would be from grades 3-8 and 11.

As covered by a previous Green & Write post, the State decided to keep the current summative assessment, the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP), until at least 2018, and will offer a $107.3 million contract to two companies to administer the tests. While there is agreement on maintaining the level of assessment funding as the previous year in most respects, the Senate subcommittee proposed an extra funding of $5 million to reimburse districts the costs of switching to computer-adaptive test format.

Educator Evaluation Budget

Photo Courtesy of www.SeniorLiving.Org

Photo Courtesy of www.SeniorLiving.Org

In the last fiscal year, the State appropriated a $14.8 million funding for teacher and administrator evaluation that was tied to the enactment of both House Bills 5223 and 5224. However, these two bills were not enacted in the previous legislative session, which means that this appropriation has not been expended. The Governor recommended deleting the language of requiring the enactment of these two bills, and urged the start of personnel training, tool purchases, and data system changes to ensure the implementation of educator evaluation that is based in part on observations and student growth next fiscal year. While there appears to be agreement that a new teacher evaluation system should be implemented immediately, and the House supported the Governor’s recommendations, the Senate is pushing for a significantly lower level of funding, allowing for only 0.65 million to spend on educator evaluation.

More Testing in Michigan?

It seems that the budgets from all sides in Michigan favor more testing. Grade 11 is added to the grade levels being tested. In addition to this, the Governor’s budget includes funding to pilot assessments in the K-2 levels to determine students’ proficiency levels, especially the reading proficiency. Remember, in Michigan’s Kindergarten, there is already an entry assessment in place currently, which is funded by the federal government Race to the Top Initiative (please refer to a previous Green & Write post here on this assessment).

Some see this as in conflict with popular rhetoric that testing should be rolled back by not assessing students in consecutive grades and by eliminating low quality tests. But it seems that in Michigan, both of these suggestions to cut down testing are not going to happen.

Seeking Out NCLB Waiver Renewal

Just like every other state in the nation, the State of Michigan is seeking to renew its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver. Last year, the Department of Education under Arne Duncan allowed for some flexibility for most states that applied for waivers to delay their teacher evaluation systems and incorporate test scores into the evaluation results until the 2015-2016 school year. If the teacher evaluation system is not in place in Michigan next fiscal year, the state will have to make a strong case an extension to meet the waiver requirement, which will likely be in jeopardy.

Also, if the language of early childhood education does find its way into the bipartisan Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) rewrite, which is very likely according to current conversations in the Senate, we would expect to see some components of the early childhood education up for discussion on the table of the State budget in order to make a case for the waiver renewal as well. However, the early childhood education issues are controversial among researchers, especially those developmental psychologists who criticized the Common Core State Standards and excessive testing on children development (please see a previous Green & Write post discussing reading proficiency by third grade here). As a result, the testing in lower grades seems to be the least likely item to get funding in the final budget.

Words in Closing

There is some disagreement on which programs to fund as well as the level of funding to appropriate for certain items on the budget. But overall there is no drastic change in the school processes next fiscal year. The evaluation system and its implementation might be the biggest change in the state’s current educational system. But not many details have been disclosed on the implementation of it, including the selection of the statewide observation instrument (for potential instruments, please see a previous Green & Write post here).

It is difficult to tell how all three sides will compromise on the areas where they disagree significantly, such as the reading proficiency initiatives. There are always some trade-offs and compromises in the process of reaching consensus and working towards the larger goals – for better education in a long run, and for the waiver renewal in a short run.

Contact Adrienne Hu: husihua@msu.edu