There has to be a better way to grade

Published 8:39 pm Thursday, September 20, 2018

School accountability ratings are a difficult-to-understand, complicated way to measure school performance. A to F ratings sound simple enough, until you see all the behind-the-scenes machinations required to generate the ratings.

The state Board of Education’s decision not to approve the A to F ratings that had already been released to school districts and the media just made it worse.

Districts were expecting to see their letter grades approved by the state board on Thursday. The ratings had been given to school leaders and the press earlier this week. But the board balked, saying it needed more time to study the information.

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It is expected that the letter grades will be approved in October, and there is the potential that some grades could change. Under the ratings scheduled to be released Thursday, more schools in the state would fall a letter grade than would improve due to ratings last year that were artificially high, according to The Associated Press.

Chief Accountability Officer Paula Vanderford said there would have been 21 failing districts last year if schools hadn’t been allowed to pick an easier standard from the year before, AP reported.

State officials realized this year that high schools would end up with dismal ratings, and the board voted to reset high school grading levels, according to AP. However, because such a reset mandates a certain number of districts get each grade, that provoked protests that the board was automatically failing some districts, AP reported.

The whole thing is a big mess that leaves parents unsure of how their child’s school is actually performing. If you dig deeper than the letter grades, you will find what percentage of a particular school is proficient in testing areas like math and reading. Those numbers may be a better barometer of how schools are performing. If schools are improving or “growing” is also a good indication of performance.

The system as we know it is flawed, and school leaders know it. We understand the need to assign some sort of score to a school as a means of accountability, but the mess we have now does a poor job and leaves parents, school districts and the general public confused.

There has to be a better way.