Today, the Senate met in a very rare weekend session to approve a deal that was reached between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. As you recall, MASA has been among the loudest voices calling for clarity and answers related the beginning of the school year. We’ve urged swift action to provide these answers before districts had to submit their COVID-19 preparedness and response plan. Yesterday, we expressed a great level of frustration with the process surrounding the return-to-learn bills.

It was our hope that any deal that was reached would be subject to vetting and scrutiny by stakeholders, unfortunately this was not the case. That being said, we now have answers to the three areas we’ve been heavily focused on. While the solutions are not perfect, they represent negotiations between the governor’s office, House, and Senate and provide clarity. We now look to the School Aid budget and the negotiations around it to work to address shortcomings in this deal and we will actively insert your voice into that process and endeavor to tweak any issues that arise from the legislation acted on today.

Pupil Count for 2020-2021

MASA has repeatedly called for the School Aid Act to allow pupil count to reflect last year’s audited count. We argued that this would provide certainty for districts as we come toward the beginning of the school year. What has been negotiated is a blend of 75% using last year’s count and 25% using this year’s count. The formula is a bit complicated, but is as follows:

0.75 X [.90 x Fall 2019 plus .10 x Spring 2019] + 0.25 X [.90 x Fall 2020 plus .10 x Spring 2020]

This formula aims to give districts a more stable funding stream for the next school year by placing more weight on the previous and known numbers. New schools, those adding grades, or those resuming operations (after closing) this coming school year would use the average of the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 counts or only the Spring 2021 count, depending on when they open.

Extended Continuity Learning Plans 

In order to receive state funding for the 2020-2021 school year, districts will be required to develop an Extended Continuity of Learning Plan (ECOL) and submit it to their ISD. Please note, this is in addition to your previous COL plan or your COVID-19 preparedness and response plan which is due today. The ECOL plan must include the following:

  1. The Necessity of the Plan – A statement of why the ECOL plan is “necessary to increase student achievement for the 2020-2021 school year.”
  2. Educational Goals – Educational goals expected to be achieved for the 2020-2021 school year. These goals “must not be used to determine state policy” and must include the following:
    1. Increased pupil achievement, or, if growth can be validly and reliably measured using the benchmark assessments required (as described below), growth on those benchmark assessments – in the aggregate and for all subgroups of pupils.
    2. An assurance that the district must choose one or more benchmark assessments aligned to state standards and an assurance that the district will administer the benchmark assessment(s) to all students to determine whether they are making meaningful progress toward mastery of the standards.
    3. Measurability through a benchmark assessment as described above.
  3. Mode of instruction – The ECOL plan must include a description of how instruction will be delivered, options include:
    1. At school or at a different location;
    2. In-person;
    3. Online;
    4. Digitally;
    5. By other remote means; in a synchronous or asynchronous format;
    6. Or in a combination of any of these methods.
  4. Re-Certifying Plan – Within 30 calendar days of approving the ECOL plan, the district’s Board of Education must re-confirm the method by which instruction will be delivered. Further, this re-certification must take place every 30 days and must include an opportunity for public comment.
  5. Academic Standards – The ECOL plan must include a description of how instruction in the core academic areas will expose each student to the academic standards that apply to each student’s grade level or courses in the same scope and sequence as the district had planned for that exposure to occur for in-person instruction and a description of how pupil progress toward mastery of the standards will be graded or otherwise reported to the student and parents.
  6. Equitable Access – The ECOL plan must include equitable access components:
    1. An assurance of how students will be provided with equitable access to technology and the internet.
    2. A description of how the district will ensure that students with disabilities will be provided with equitable access to instruction accommodation in compliance with state and federal law.
  7. Health and Safety Guidelines – The legislation includes requirement that the district, in consultation with the local health department and school district employees, must develop district-wide guidelines on methods for delivering instruction that are based on local data based on key metrics. The district will have the ultimate authority to determine what method to deliver instruction under. “Key metrics” would mean:
    1. The trend of Covid-19 (COVID) cases or positive tests, hospitalizations due to COVID; and the number of deaths resulting from COVID in the past 14-day period.
    2. COVID cases for each day for every 1 million people.
    3. The percentage of positive COVID tests over a four-week period.
    4. Health care capacity strength.
    5. Testing, tracing and containment infrastructure with regard to COVID.
  8. K-5 Prioritization – The ECOL Plan must include a provision that, if the district determines it is safe to provide in-person instruction, the district will prioritize in-person instruction to students in grades K-5.

The ECOL plan must be submitted to ISDs by October 1, 2020. ISDs and authorizers would have to approve the plans if they contain all the required elements. Approved plans would have to be submitted by the ISD or authorizer to the state treasurer and the state superintendent. The ECOL plan would have to be posted on the district’s website by October 1, 2020, and by February 1, 2021 districts would have to report on their websites the progress made in meeting the educational goals that the district expected to achieve by the middle of the school year.
By the end of the school year, districts would have to post on their website the data from their benchmark assessment (except local benchmarks), and a report on progress made in meeting educational goals that the district expected to achieve by the end of the school year. It’s worth noting that none of these ECOL plan provisions would apply to a cyber school.

Student Attendance

For the 2020-2021 school year, in order not to have to forfeit state aid, the district must ensure that at least one monthly two-way interaction occurs between at least 75% of the students and their teachers all school year. The interaction must be relevant to course progress or content. The documentation of these interactions would be audited. The district would have to forfeit a proportional amount of state aid for each month in which fewer than 75% of students engage in this two-way interaction.

“Two-way interaction” is defined as:

  • For a pupil not learning sequentially, if any of the following occurs for each course the pupil is enrolled in:
    • the pupil attends a live lesson given by the teacher on the count day;
    • the pupil logs into an online lesson or activity on the count day and it can be documented;
    • the pupil and one of his or her teachers speaks on the phone on the count day about the subject taught;
    • the district or intermediate district (ISD) documents an email dialogue between the pupil and at least one of his or her teachers on count day; or
    • the district or ISD documents activity between the pupil and a learning coach occurring on the count day.
  • For a pupil who is learning sequentially, if any of the following occurs for each course the pupil is enrolled in:
    • the pupil completes a course assignment on the count day and the completion is documented;
    • the pupil completes a course lesson or lesson activity on the count day, and it is documented; or
    • the pupil accesses an on-going lesson that is not a login on the count day and the access is documented by the district or ISD.
  • At least one two-way interaction between the pupil and at least one of the pupil’s teachers during the week when count day occurs and during each of the three following weeks. Each of these “weeks” begins on Wednesday and ends the following Tuesday. “Two-way interaction” means a communication that occurs between a pupil and his or her teacher where one of them initiates communication and a response from the other person follows. The communication must be relevant to the course progress or content. Responses must be to the communication initiated by the teacher. This communication could occur through any of the following (but is not limited to these): email, telephone, instant messaging, or a face-to-face conversation.
  • The pupil has not engaged in any of the activities described above and the pupil was not excused from that engagement, but the pupil participates in or completes an activity described in the first two bullets above during the ten consecutive school days immediately following the count day.
  • The pupil has not engaged in any of the activities described in the first three bullets above and the pupil was excused from that engagement, but the pupil participates in or completes an activity described in the first two bullets above during the thirty consecutive calendar days immediately following the count day.
  • The pupil meets the criteria of pupils in grades K-12 actually enrolled and in regular daily attendance on the count day.

Days and Hours

Current law requires schools to provide 1098 hours and 180 days of instruction each school year. For the 2020-2021 school year only, the bill waives this requirement. For the 2020-2021 school year only, however, districts must provide distance learning that results in a number of hours and days necessary to deliver the educational or course content that would have been delivered in 180 days and 1098 hours in a school year in which pandemic learning was not provided and that would have led to course completion. “Pandemic learning” is defined here as a mode of pupil instruction provided as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Benchmark Assessments

Under the bill, in order to receive state aid for the 2020-2021 school year, districts would have to administer to all students in grades K-8 a standardized or local benchmark assessment within the first nine weeks of the school year and a second one before the end of the school year. The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) would have to approve 4 or 5 providers of standardized benchmark assessments and inform districts of all the available benchmark assessment options.

The standardized assessments would have to meet all of the following:

  • Be one of the most commonly administered assessments in this state.
  • Be aligned to state standards.
  • Complement the state’s summative assessment system.
  • Be internet-delivered, standards-based, computer-adaptive and target the instructional level of each student (the free one does not have to be computer-adaptive or target the instructional level of each student). Provide information on student achievement per year or grade span.
  • Provide immediate feedback (“timely” feedback for the free one).
  • Be nationally normed.
  • Provide multiple measures of growth and multiple testing opportunities (provide “information about student growth” for the free one).

A district could instead administer one of the following:

  • A benchmark assessment in reading for students in grades K-9 that contains progress monitoring tools and enhanced diagnostic assessments.
  • A benchmark assessment in math for students in grades K-8 that contains progress monitoring.
Whatever benchmark assessment the district chooses, it must be the same one it administered in previous school years – to the extent practicable.
By August 1, 2021, MDE and CEPI must send a report to the governor and to the standing education committee chairs identifying the number and percentage of students in the state who are significantly behind grade level as determined by MDE and CEPI based on the benchmark data. The benchmark assessment data may also be used to measure students’ growth based on their performance on state summative assessments to identify statewide where student achievement has increased or decreased. (But, the benchmark assessment data must not be used for state accountability purposes.) 

After the administration of the statewide assessment resumes, MDE must also report to the governor and the standing committee chairs identifying the number of students statewide whose expected trajectory toward grade-level proficiency were most impacted by school closures that occurred because of COVID. A district administering a benchmark assessment must provide data from the benchmark to parents within 30 days of administering the assessment. If a district uses a local benchmark assessment, it must report to MDE and CEPI the assessments that were administered and how those assessments measure changes in learning, including any losses in learning and the district’s plan for addressing any losses in learning. It is the intent of the legislature that a study will be conducted by a partnership among the state public research universities to isolate best practices for pandemic learning.