Sunday, May 17, 2015

Why do we think that applying a grade is going to fix anything?

Despite some progress during the 84th legislative session in addressing the needs of the more than 5 million public education students (SB 149 is a great example), there is still relatively little progress in getting to the source of the issues public education faces.  Whether focused on assessment or school finance, this session and these legislators have, in large part, once again come up short in listening to the needs of their constituents.  And now this....

Both the House and the Senate have now approved assigning campus ratings to individual campuses, the House doing so on May 14 as part of HB 2804.  What they failed to do in these discussions is to recognize that addressing the issue of poor performing schools is not as simple as assigning a grade of A-F.  They failed to acknowledge that there are many factors that impact the performance of a campus.  At the top of the list is the overall socioeconomic environment of the campus.  A high level of poverty among students on a campus is a very strong predictor of performance by that campus.

Here is another consideration.  A student is the valedictorian on a campus that has been assigned a poor letter grade.  Does that mean that the student performance is not noteworthy and that the accomplishment is somehow minimized or negated because of a campus rating?  And what about the perception on the part of all students?  Isn't a stigma attached to the campus (and indirectly to the students) that makes them feel less capable and less worthy of praise by administrators, teachers and parents?  Why do we think that attaching a grade that creates a stigma is solving anything?

So when do we attack the root of the issue and not the outcomes?  At what point do we realize that investing in these students and these campuses is the most logical way to address this issue?  I have no issue with assigning grades to districts, as we have been doing for many years.  It is certainly fair to hold the district accountable for their overall performance and for the performance on individual campuses.   Working with local community members, students, administrators and business leaders, the problem at a campus level is better solved at a local level than applying state oversight.

It would be nice if we could set aside the personal agendas of those who purportedly represent us and to focus on the needs of the students.  Headlines like an A-F campus grading system make for great theater.  But does it solve the problem and do the students gain anything from this?  Other states have tried ratings systems and now acknowledge that their implementation is not helping to solve a problem.  Instead of continuing the trial and error of shortsighted actions, maybe we can step back and start with an assessment of the issues and then decide how to address them.  A "solution looking for a problem" ultimately fixes nothing.

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