Debate: What if every Texas school got a letter grade rating, A through F?

What if Texas schools got letter grade A-F ratings? | San Antonio Charter MomsParents, would you find it helpful if every school in Texas got a letter grade, A-F? Do letter grade ratings give parents a useful yardstick for quality? Or, do they oversimplify and obscure the differences among schools? Please leave a comment to share your point of view.

This is not a theoretical question. Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams plans to offer A-F ratings of schools starting soon.  “Public school districts pass”, Maria Luisa Cesar & Francisco Vara-Orta, San Antonio Express-News, August 9, 2013; “Agency Proceeds With A-F School Ratings Plan”, Morgan Smith, Texas Tribune, April 24, 2013; “TEA Chief: Texas Moving to A-F Grades for Schools”, Morgan Smith, Texas Tribune, April 24, 2013. New ratings were part of the reforms (including changes to standardized testing, see this earlier post) passed earlier this year in HB5

So, what will be the formula for giving Texas schools their A through F ratings? The current system has two levels, “met standard” and “improvement required”, as discussed in this earlier post, and schools can earn distinctions for high rank in some areas, as shown in this earlier post. The A-F system will probably use some of the same components, including student progress, academic achievement in math, and academic achievement in reading and English language arts.

What can Texas learn from other states with letter grade school ratings, such as Florida and Indiana?

A recent scandal in Indiana reveals some of the risks of letter grade school ratings. Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett resigned after the publication of a set of emails, dating back to when he was Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, showing that Bennett and his staff changed the ratings formula to help a particular charter school, Christel House, that is run by a campaign donor. “Florida Education Chief Resigns Amid Indiana Controversy”, Stephanie Banchero & Arian Campo-Flores, Wall Street Journal, August 1, 2013; “Amid school grading controversy, Florida education chief Tony Bennett resigns”, Kathleen McGrory & Jeffrey S. Solochek, Miami Herald, August 2, 2013. Can parents trust letter grade ratings if they are subject to political influence? Or, was Bennett merely doing a sanity-check on the ratings formula?

More perspectives on the Tony Bennett scandal:

  • “Tony Bennett Is Having a Bad Week”, Greg Forster, Jay P. Greene’s Blog, July 29, 2013 (“Any kind of evaluation system must involve qualitative as well as quantitative testing. That is, you not only have to make sure the numbers are accurately collected, crunched and reported, you have to make sure that what the system is calling ‘good’ really is good.”).
  • “How Tony Bennett’s Last-Minute A-F Changes Lifted 165 Indiana School Grades”, Kyle Stokes, State Impact (NPR), August 15, 2013 (excluding high school data, because Christel House stops at 10th grade, raised its score from C to B; allowing for maximum bonuses for student growth raised its score from B to A).
  • “More Indiana”, Andrew Rotherham, Eduwonk, August 1, 2013 (“Voucher supporters must be chuckling at all this because they have an answer here . . . just let the market do it.”).
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