A Closer Look At A-F School Grading Bill

Technically it is known as Act No. 2012-402.  Passed in the regular legislative session of 2012, the bill states: “Relating to public K-12 education; to require the State Superintendent of Education to develop a school grading system reflective of school and district performance; and to create the Legislative School Performance Recognition Program.”

Sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins, co-sponsors were Ed Henry, Donnie Chesteen, Chad Fincher, Rod Scott, Kurt Wallace, Elaine Beech, Phil Williams, Barry Mask, Mac Buttram, Mike Ball, April Weaver, Lynn Greer, Allen Treadaway and Dan Williams.  (Fincher, Wallace, Mask, Buttram and Dan Williams are no longer in the legislature.  Scott and Beech are Democrats, all others are Republicans.)

After reading and re-reading the bill, one can only conclude that it was little more than a solution in search of a problem.  Which may have a lot to do with why, four years after passage, it has yet to be put in place

Looking closer at some of its language we find: “the Legislature finds that there is also value in assigning grades that reflect the performance of the public schools attended by public school students in Alabama.”  And just where did they find this?  Every article and piece of research I can turn up about A-F school grades casts doubt on the merit of the idea.

Do a Google search on “How well do A-F school grades work?” and for starters you find such as this, this and this.

In fairness, it should be pointed out that a great deal of info about the shortcomings of an A-F school grading system have come to light since 2012.  However, since we have not yet implemented this legislation, doesn’t it make sense to take a harder look at what we now know and revisit why we should insist on putting it in place?  If we want to do what is in the best interests of our children, shouldn’t we use the latest research?

The bill also says, “The Legislature also finds that there is a need for a program to reward public K-12 schools in Alabama that demonstrate high achievement.”  Then we learn that the bill will create the Legislative School Performance Recognition Program at the state department of education to give financial awards to high performing schools.

But what about low-performing schools?  Those that are struggling the most and obviously need help?  Nowhere does this bill mention them.  Apparently it’s OK if they continue to struggle on their own.  Seems to me this is like telling all the kids in the first grade who can swim that they will get swimming lessons.  Those who can’t will just continue to sink to the bottom of the pool.

The Alabama Accountability Act was passed a year later, in 2013.  This is the same approach it takes to struggling schools.  The law says that the bottom six percent of all schools in the state are to be labeled as “failing.”  However, while the same bill devotes a lot of language to how to set up tax breaks for corporate contributions for scholarships to private schools, it does not have ONE WORD about how “failing” schools will get help to become better.

The A-F bill also says, “Using an easy to understand grading scale, the school grading system shall describe achievement in the state, each district, and each school.”  Some of the best educators in Alabama devoted hundreds of hours trying to come up with a school grading system without coming to a decision that has pleased the bill’s sponsor.  “Easy to understand grading scale” apparently is not so easy to figure out.

And once we give each school their letter grade, what then?  Back to the bill, “shall post these grades on the website of the State Department of Education as soon as the grade are available.  Additionally, appropriate grade information shall be delivered to the parent or guardian of each public school student at least once annually.”

Well there you go.  Chances are very good that many of the accountability act’s “failing schools” will also get a lower letter grade in the A-F system.  Parents who have children in a “failing” school already get a notification.  So now most of them will get not just one, but two, notifications of how poor this child’s school is.  What they WILL NOT get is a letter telling them what resources these schools will receive to help them improve.

In other words, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.

If one end of the boat is leaking, it does little good to move to the other end.  And the A-F school grading legislation is just another example that we have yet to understand this.

 

 

 

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