Commentary
11:48 am
Wed August 3, 2011

School Accreditation Based on Standardized Test Scores?

The Detroit Tigers may win the American League pennant this year, and I don’t like that one bit. It reminds me, in fact, of one of the reasons that our schools are so screwed up.

If that doesn’t seem to make any sense, hang with me for a moment. First of all, I grew up a huge Tigers fan, and can still remember everything about the World Series-winning 1968 team.

But this year, while Detroit has been in first place for much of the last month, it doesn’t mean as much. The teams are divided into many divisions now, so there can be more winners.

It is likely that the second-place team in the more powerful Eastern division will end up winning more games than the first-place team in the Central. To me, that isn’t right, and means a tainted first place finish. Now, what does that have to do with our schools? Simply this. Virtually all Michigan public schools are accredited by the state.

Accreditation ought to mean some guarantee that a school is doing what it should, that you can put your child in it and  expect that he or she will get a proper education.

Provided, of course, you do your part as a parent.

However, when every single school is accredited, the designation ceases to have any meaning. There are four thousand public schools in Michigan. According to a recent report in the Detroit News, only three have lost accreditation in recent years.

That’s equivalent to a major league sport in which every team except one goes to the playoffs. Except that sports are a diversion. Whether or not a child gets a good education is absolutely crucial if he or she is to have any chance at success in life.

There are “accredited” high schools in Detroit that function more like holding pens than anything else.

Fortunately, the state department education, at long last, is admitting this. The Snyder administration wants to move to basing accreditation on standardized test scores.

That, they say, will give the state a benchmark they can use to readily identify troubled schools, and get them the help they need.

As I understand it, schools scoring in the bottom five percent,  about two hundred schools, would automatically lose accreditation.

This idea is not universally popular. Three districts – Kalamazoo, Lansing and Ferndale – have sued to block the changes.  Why are they doing that? Because schools that lose accreditation will lose students, and those who stay won’t be able to get into decent colleges and universities. You might think those districts would be inclined to put their resources into education rather than lawsuits.

But we live in a society where appearances are often more important than reality. Now, it is true that there is more to education than test scores. And we need to insist that if this system is adopted, the state lives up to its word and devotes resources to getting the non-accredited schools up to speed.

But we need some way of measuring whether our schools are doing the job, and test scores seem like the best ones available.

Our real test, however, is to have schools that can properly educate the next generation. Otherwise, Michigan fails, and no system of accreditation will mean a damn thing.