Commissioner Stewart’s school grade proposal is calculated differently, but its results are similar to those earned last year. Now John Padget, the Vice Chairman of the State Board of Education, is proposing tougher standards.
We need to think about this. The SBE meets January 6th to consider the school grade alternatives. We want students to meet proficiency standards, but the legislature needs to make it possible. How does the public make that happen?
We need to understand what a school grade really means–and does not mean. We have to ask if school grades motivate school districts, teachers and staff to do more. Good intentions are necessary but often insufficient. What else is required to improve learning? How do we make the system work for all children?
WHAT DOES A SCHOOL GRADE MEAN?
The Commissioner’s plan calculates elementary school grades based on the percentage of points earned (0–100) for each of the FSA English Language Arts and Mathematics tests in three categories: FSA achievement, FSA achievement score gains, and FSA achievement gains of the lowest 25% of students. Middle school grades include FSA and End of Course (EOC) Civics exam scores, and acceleration rates. High school grades are calculated by adding in additional EOC scores as well as graduation rate and the percentage of students eligible to earn college credit through authorized options.
The Commissioner’s proposed school grade score standards are reported here. Test score components of school grades include the percentage of students who passed each required exam plus achievement gains defined as:
- the percentage of students whose scores increased by one achievement level or
- who scored below proficiency but improved in a subcategory in math or English Language Arts or
- remained at a proficiency level of 3 or 4 but earned higher test scores or
- remained at a proficiency level of 5
Think of the school grade as an average of the percent of students in each of the above categories. For middle and/or high schools, add in the percentage of students passing the EOC exams and the graduation rate and college credit/certification percentage. Sum the percentage points earned and divide by the points possible. An ‘A’ grade requires an average of 62 points while an ‘F’ is set at 31 points or less.
DO SCHOOL GRADES REPRESENT EDUCATIONAL QUALITY?
John Padget believes that the school grade standards are not high enough. In a letter to the other members of the State Board of Education, he argues that the standard for an ‘A’ should be set at an average of seventy percent or at least 65%. This would result in lower school grades across the board.
Once again we need to stop and think. School grades may impact real estate values but they do little to improve learning. Hiding the truth by statistical manipulation may be politically advantageous, but it is a cover for a flawed accountability system. After all, the FSA is a more difficult exam, but the Commissioner’s grading system does not reflect it. It would not, of course, because the FSA and the FCAT 2.0 results were equated using an equipercentile method. Thus, a particular FCAT 2.0 score would reflect about the same percentile as an FSA score. If the goal of our educational system is that all students should be college ready, some might argue that 62% is a ‘D’, not an ‘A’.
IF NOT SCHOOL GRADES, THEN WHAT?
What do we say in response to Mr. Padget’s recommendation? Will making the schools look worse by imposing stiffer standards improve learning? Some Machiavellian types might argue that it would be one way to get the public’s attention. If what is really needed are intensive tutoring, early childhood education, and better prepared teachers training programs, then the public would get the message to the legislature. Others argue that schools are doing well and continuing to improve. The focus on testing is misguided and destructive. Strong arguments can be made in both camps. The frustrating issue is not that the problems are complex, it is that the legislature is shifting the blame to teachers rather than taking their own share of the blame.