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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  1. While I think rating schools is important, the A-F system would be too vague and simplify things too much. I’d want to know more (in which specific areas my child’s school is failing, excelling and needing improvement).

  2. I feel that, if done right, this system would be great! It seems like it’d give a better feeling for the school rather than the current, pass or needs improvement. I’d like to see this with a set of criteria and explanation for the ranking. Something like, this school got a C because it needs improvement or was lacking in X, Y & Z. Parents chosen where they live largely based around schools and their rating and there needs to be honest info out there about how the school is! Thanks for sharing this info!

  3. I agree that rating a school would be helpful but since my child is just going to start kinder I had little to no knowledge of the info you shared. Please forgive me if I am missing a point since I have not read through all the articles… if a school will be ranked as a whole with no specifics to each area of importance then letter grades will be no more helpful than what we have now. If on the other hand the letter grades will show an overall score as well as show scores for different areas that would be very helpful. I guess I better start reading and trying to understand what impact letter grades will actually have… Will parents be able to send their kids to other schools with better grades? Will state officials come into schools that are low scoring to help improve them? Yikes Inga you now have me really thinking.

  4. Right now the school (Texas) gets a title of Academically Acceptable, Recognized.and Exemplary. They are based on their TAKS/STARR testing results. kinda gives a over all score chart from 2009. I am with Colleen. Using the A-F system is vague. Their is so much more to school and academics than test results. I get to see all sorts of schools in the JISD. It is clear that some campuses are better at taking test than others….but that’s about it.

  5. My feeling is that the A-F system would oversimplify things. I agree with Colleen – I’d like to know specifics about a school’s strengths and weaknesses. For my personal situation, I’ve always found it more helpful to attend school functions, open houses, etc. Meet the teachers, meet neighbors who have kids in the schools, hear stories about their experiences. I know there are some very highly rated schools that have some less than stellar classrooms and some low rated schools that have some remarkable classrooms thanks to dedicated and enthusiastic teachers and administrators.

    My kids are still too young to be part of the public school system though and I’m lucky enough to live in a community with highly rated schools. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I lived elsewhere.

  6. I do like the idea behind the A through F school rating. For most parents I know a clear grade would help with whether or not your school is “passing”. As a parent I would like some addition info as to why they were given that letter and what areas they could improve on, I think including parents on the ranking of a schools letter grade would also be helpful to other parents thinking if having their child attend school there.

  7. I agree with previous comments that no system of rating schools is helpful to parents without some kind of disclosure or breakdown about what exactly is being rated. I believe that the current Met Standard/Needs Improvement is too black and white, and an A-F rating system would be no better, only now it’s a rainbow of choices. It’s still subjective. I think a rubric system is in order. Let’s disclose the rating system to the public. As teacher’s we are asked to be upfront with our students about our grading policies so that student’s know what they are expected to do before they do it, not after they are finished. I think that the public should know exactly how the school are being rated. It shouldn’t be something that happens behind closed doors, and it shouldn’t be only based on test scores. There are other things that I find important, as a parent, when making the important decision of choosing a school. I want to know what the school culture is like, how the teachers are rated, what the teachers background education is, how the principal is rated, what the school culture is like, etc. All of those things will have a direct impact on test scores.

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