Back in 2012, Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur sponsored a seven-page bill that says all schools in the state should receive a letter grade of A, B, C, D or F.
Why? The bill says, “The Legislature further finds that an easy to understand school grading system would best serve the interests of the public as a whole, and specifically the parents and guardians of public school students, by providing another transparent layer of accountability for the public dollars allocated to elementary and secondary education in the state.”
Like so many things our legislature says, the language above and other language in the bill is downright nearly laughable. For instance, “transparent” and “accountability.” Where is the “accountability” in the Alabama Accountability Act that was passed in 2013 and that Rep. Collins supported? How much benefit have our 730,000 public school students gotten from now diverting more than $66 million from the Education Trust Fund for private school scholarships as set up by this act? This bill was originally written to help students in “failing” schools. Has it done this? If so, why have more than 1,000 students who were already attending a private school received a scholarship?
Thankfully the A-F system has yet to be put into place. However, we are told it will be for the 2016-17 school year. So once again we will have a chance to point our finger at some schools and tell the world how bad they are. Something we love to do in Alabama because we are already doing this with the accountability act and will soon do it again with the new Every Student Succeeds Act passed last year by Congress.
The reason A-F has not yet been implemented is because no one can agree on how schools should be graded. A committee met for about two years trying to come up with a way to do this. Rep. Collins was on it, along with some of the best educators in the state. As best I can determine, at the end of the day this committee simply threw up its hands because consensus could not be reached.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is credited with beginning the A-F school grading system in 1999. Since politicians love to find parades and rush to the head of them, a number of other states soon followed Florida. But now many states are finding that this idea was not all it was cracked up to be and are re-thinking their use of it.
The system has been very controversial in Florida and the state has tampered with the grading formula about as many times as Donald Trump has said Mexico will pay for a wall on the Texas border. Robin Godby is a college professor and the mother of two middle school students. She said the Florida system “in no way accurately conveys the quality of education provided to children. There is no emphasis on critical thinking skills, creativity, ethics, logic and an appreciation for learning.”
A teacher with a child in middle school and one in high school says, “A school’s grade means little to me. It is simply a waste of time.”
Oklahoma began giving school grades in 2012.
This report by the Oklahoma Center for Education Policy at the University of Oklahoma and the Center for Educational Research and Evaluation at Oklahoma State University pulls no punches about what the state is doing.
“The data we have analyzed demonstrate quite dramatically that the letter grade system for school evaluation has very little meaning and certainly cannot be used legitimately to inform high-stakes decisions.”
“We urge policy makers to abandon the single letter approach.”
“A bureaucratic evaluation system that produces nearly meaningless grades is no substitute for reasoned decision making based on careful consideration of all creditable evidence.”
“When letter grades were put to the test with actual student achievement date, it turns out that they do more to hide achievement differences than provide a clear understanding of school effectiveness. In our analysis of over 15,000 student test scores from 63 schools, results showed that school grades do not fulfill the intention of the State to provide parents and schools with a clear understanding of school performance.”
“Oklahoma’s Report Card is very costly, bureaucratically cumbersome, and seems not designed to improve learning in schools.”
Truth is, you don’t have to look at A-F grading in other states to know the Alabama legislation is sorely lacking. All you need to do is look at the language on the first page of the bill we passed in 2012. The last sentence on the page states: “The Legislature further finds that performance-based incentives and increased autonomy are commonplace in the private sector and should be infused into the public sector as a reward for productivity.”
Once again, this is the mantra of run schools like a business. Treat students like widgets on an assembly line. This is one of the most bone-headed notions in education policy. I have yet to find one decent, experienced educator in Alabama who agrees with this. And any legislation that makes such a statement should be immediately dismissed because it is an admission in black and white that whoever wrote the bill is clueless about how schools really work.