Sunday, April 14, 2024

Superintendents Question Need for A-F School Grading System

Gov. Bob McDonnell previewed his proposed education reforms in December alongside Delegate Kirk Cox and former Secretary of Education Jim Dyke. Photo by Michaele White/Governor’s Photographer.

Local superintendents aren’t convinced Gov. Bob McDonnell’s push to assign grades to schools will help parents better understand school performance.

Last week, both the House of Delegates and state Senate approved McDonnell’s plan to assign grades, from A to F, to each of the state’s public schools. The bill was passed in the Senate with a tie-breaking vote cast by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. Local legislators Sen. Tommy Norment, Sen. John Miller, Del. Brenda Pogge and Del. Mike Watson all voted for approval. The Board of Education must develop the grading system by Oct. 1, 2015.

Right now, parents can visit the Virginia Department of Education’s school report cards, stored on its site, to find out how their student’s school performed on the state’s accreditation system. But when the school grading system is fully implemented, parents will be able to look at their child’s school and see if it received an A, B, C, D or F; the grade will reflect the school’s ability to meet a range of criteria used for accreditation, from performance on standardized tests to graduation rates.

To get an A, a school must be fully accredited, have scored a 25 percent or higher advanced proficiency pass rate on state assessments in each content area and meets all federal annual measurable objectives. By contrast, a school earning an F would have been denied accreditation or received a rating of conditionally accredited, if reconstituted.

The grading system will also have to consider “student growth,” evaluating whether a school’s students are performing at higher levels, maintaining proficient or advanced proficient performance levels on state assessments or making significant improvement with below-level performance on math or reading assessments.

In a statement celebrating the bill’s passage, McDonnell said the tool will “allow parents and teachers to better advocate for and improve the schools in their communities.”

Both Williamsburg-James City County Superintendent Steven Constantino and York County Superintendent Eric Williams disagree. They said giving a school a single grade will not tell the whole story.

“I support transparency and openness, but I think A-F undercuts the ability of parents to understand. It’s disrespectful to parents,” Williams said. “Most parents care enough to look at multiple measures to see how their child’s school is performing.”

Constantino said he did not understand why the change was needed, and why it was pushed through the General Assembly so quickly after it was first proposed in December 2012.

“I don’t understand why the legislature would think the public is so stupid they couldn’t understand what ‘accredited with warning’ means,” he said. “I’m perplexed why legislation was passed with no rubrics, no metrics. It suggests this is more beneficial politically.”

The Virginia Association of School Superintendents, directed by former York Superintendent Steven Staples, skewered the plan in a statement released Feb. 4. In the release, VASS President and Gloucester County Schools Superintendent Ben Kiser said the A-F grading system appeared to be a scheme “right out of the playbook developed by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education” which has been linked through emails to private education businesses that would profit from similar legislation in Florida. Earlier this month, McDonnell hosted a conference call with Bush to discuss the initiative.

VASS said many of the governor’s reforms have been based on models from states ranked lower for quality. Constantino echoed that concern, saying he does not understand why Virginia, ranked fourth in the country, would copy the Louisiana school system, ranked 23rd by Education Week.

Earlier this month, Constantino visited a WJCC school, where a principal pulled him aside and said he had to see something amazing. Joined by the principal, school therapist and several other staff members, he saw a 6-year-old special needs child take her first steps unassisted by a walker.

“Everyone was crying,” he said. “And now the state is going to tell her parents there’s a good chance she’s in a C school.

“It’s discouraging to know education is valued so little that a decision can be made without a plan,” he said.

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