Monday, January 16, 2017

Grading Our Schools

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released "What If" A-F grades for schools across Texas. The ratings are based on student achievement/progress, closing performance gaps, post-secondary readiness, and community and student engagement. The RISD received a "B" in each of the four domains.

The ratings are new, not yet finalized, and only "what if" at this time, but they've caused quite a stir around the state. Richardson ISD Superintendent Dr. Jeannie Stone released the following statement:
Assigning a letter grade, based substantially on the outcome of a standardized test taken on one day of the year, simply can't capture the year-long efforts of students, teachers, principals and everyone who supports teaching and learning. Entire school and communities will be painted with the brush of a single letter grade, even though individual students perform across a wide range of achievement levels on a number of different indicators. The A-F concept has been attempted - and has failed - elsewhere. We owe our students, teachers and communities better than this system.
Source: RISD.
I have two problems with this statement.

First, does it overstate the case? The RISD itself says it received four grades, not one. It appears to be true that those four grades are weighted and combined to assign an overall grade to RISD. And the domains based on the STAAR standardized test are weighted at a majority of the total in the formula. Maybe Dr. Stone hangs her argument on the word "substantially." But it's not hard to unpack the components that go into the overall grade. The RISD itself does so easily in its own press release. According to the second sentence, "RISD received a grade of "B" in each of four domains." So why mention only standardized testing in the press release, as if that's the only domain being measured?

Second, and more important, even though I sympathize with those who complain that trying to crunch down all the diversity of public education (different students, subjects, teachers, schools, funding, socio-economic communities, etc.) into a single A-F grade (or even four) is overly simplistic, Dr. Stone needs to offer the public an alternative means to judge the effectiveness of the public education program in the RISD.

She's the head of a huge business enterprise ($300 million budget serving 38,000 students). I don't care how much of a people person you are, I don't care how much you subscribe to management-by-walking-around (MBWA), you can't manage an enterprise the size of the RISD without metrics. What are the metrics she herself uses to determine if the district's initiatives are working? In other words, what does she want us to look at instead of the TEA's A-F grades? I don't know. And that's a problem.

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

The source of the problem is that this really is a big and complex problem. I've read the Accountability page on the RISD's website ( ). It's impressively long and detailed. And I realize it's only a summary of the metrics used to track the district's performance. I want something short and simple enough to explain to people in, say, one page. I want something stable enough to track changes over time.

The state's A-F system might be politically motivated, but it's good politics -- people desperately want a simple, understandable answer to the question, "How good are our schools?" Unless school districts can provide an answer to that question, school districts are going to lose the political battle every time.

Maybe what I'm asking for is impossible. A quote attributed to Albert Einstein, in another context, explained the challenge public school advocates face, as reported in this 1962 TIME magazine account:

"In fields of specialized knowledge, we aim to render an account that is plain and simple, yet does no violence to the difficulty of the subject, so that the uninformed reader can understand us while the expert cannot fault us. We try to keep in mind a saying attributed to Einstein—that everything must be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler."