The Detroit Public Schools Community District starts giving students the M-STEP test this week. That’s the annual statewide test used to measure student achievement.
But more than 400 Detroit parents have opted for their kids to sit out the test, because they’re upset that the state uses that data to justify closing schools.
The unusually large number of opt-outs comes mostly as a result of a campaign organized by the Detroit Parent Network.
CEO Sharlonda Buckman says Detroit parents have come to feel “extremely disrespected” by state education officials.
Buckman says they’ve tried hard to engage state decision-makers on efforts to turn around schools and “build on what’s working” in Detroit, but ultimately their voices never seem to be heard.
Buckman says it got to the point where “if we continue to do the same thing, and we continue to get the same result from the state – and that is feeling like they’re not listening, and they’re continuing to punish children in poverty – then we needed to take a different action, and we needed to stop giving them the tools that they then use to turn around and close Detroit schools.”
The State School Reform Office had threatened to shut down up to 25 low-performing Detroit schools this year, mostly based on M-STEP data from the past two years.
While the Michigan Department of Education has now stepped in and mostly reversed course to focus on school turnaround, Buckman says that doesn’t remove the future threat of punishing “failing” schools with closure.
“It’s about pushing back on the state punishing children for being in poverty,” Buckman said. “If we continue to look at the bottom 5%, we’re going to always be closing schools. Because there will always be a bottom 5%, and we know that most of those schools are going to be in impoverished urban areas.”
By state law, the SSRO can close those schools who rank in the bottom 5% of schools statewide for three consecutive years. The Michigan Department of Education had pledged not to use M-STEP scores for that purpose until next year, because the test was only rolled out in the 2014-15 school year; however, that changed when the SSRO was removed from MDE oversight, and put under the control of the governor’s office.
MDE still administers the M-STEP. In a recent letter to parents, state Superintendent Brian Whiston said: “While we support parents in making choices for their children, there is no allowable way in state or federal law to “opt out” of state assessments. Students who are not assessed will count against their schools' participation rate, leaving schools open to penalties.”
Buckman says some parents opting out have faced “threats and bullying” from their child’s school over the decision. While the move could potentially backfire, Buckman says many people felt like this is the only way of getting heard.
“It’s either we want parents to be empowered or not,” Buckman said. “And when they exercise their power, we can’t turn around and bully them, or make them feel afraid because they’re making a choice or taking a stand on behalf of their children.”