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What is lime green?

• Mike Thomas

Michigan tried to simplify its school accountability system this year by grading schools with colors.

Green. Lime. Yellow. Orange. Red.

The attempt at clarity only brought confusion.

When the colors came out, Venessa Keesler, a deputy superintendent at the Michigan Department of Education, actually had to explain that yellow doesn’t mean average, it means “caution.’’

But what does caution mean?

Complained one superintendent: “Parents will assume incorrectly that schools with orange are worse than schools with yellow and that schools within yellow are all the same.”

Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, Chair of the House Education Committee, pretty much summed things up when she said, “It’s not clear. It’s not concise. And it’s not transparent.’’

And so Rep. Lyons wants to bring a simple A-F school grading system to Michigan.

Parents ask “what lime green is,’’ says Lyons. “What is orange? But they know what an A is.’’

Using letter grades, she said, provides “a simple, clear, concise and transparent system that everyone understands.’’

Rep. Lyons held a hearing Wednesday where Christy Hovanetz, a Senior Policy Fellow for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, laid out some basic principles for a successful grading formula.

It should include a balance between proficiency and student growth on assessments. There should be rigid standards to measure student growth.

Hovanetz also recommended against breaking out students in demographic or socio-economic categories. Rather, she said, the grading formula simply should focus schools on improving the lowest performing 25 percent of students.

In response to a question from Rep. Tom McMillan, Hovantz noted that growth expectations were not reduced for low-performing students.

“Our standard of growth is the same for all students,’’ she said of Florida’s accountability system.

The Education Trust-Midwest, an education research and policy group, supports the change.

Executive Director Amber Arellano told the Associated Press that parents deserve “more coherent information.’’

“When there’s real accountability and real public reporting and it’s meaningful and there are real consequences when schools don’t perform, it creates a lot of discomfort for the education community,” she said. “For the first two or three years, there’s a lot of discomfort. What we have to get better at as a state is being comfortable with the discomfort.”

About the author

Mike Thomas @MikeThomasTweet

Mike Thomas serves in the communications department, writing editorials and speeches. Prior to joining the Foundation, Mike worked for more than 30 years as a journalist with Florida Today and the Orlando Sentinel. He has written investigative projects, magazine feature stories, humor pieces, editorials and local columns. He won several state and national awards, and was named a finalist in the American Society of New Editors’ Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary/Column Writing in 2010. As a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, he wrote extensively about education reform, becoming one of its chief advocates in the Florida media. Mike graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in political science and journalism. His wife is a teacher and he has two children in public schools. Contact Mike at