There were hosannas coming from educators throughout Alabama the afternoon of Oct. 13 when the state school board dug in their heels in regard to legislation requiring all schools be given a grade of A-F beginning later this fall.
The agenda item was during a public hearing for Alabama Administrative Code: Adopt New Alabama Administrative Code, Rule 290-4-1-03, Pertaining to Education Accountability (Grading System for School Districts and schools). However, the board tabled a vote on this item.
The bill creating this grading system was passed in 2012 and sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur. It has been contentious from the start as educators have questioned its merit. Reports from other states trying such report cards have been a mixed bag at best. Florida started this trend in 1999 under Governor Jeb Bush and has constantly tinkered with a scoring formula since.
The Virginia General Assembly passed a law to implement A-F in 2013. In response to concern from educators, a bill to repeal the law was passed in 2015. This bill was sponsored by Republican state senator Dick Black, who received a Purple Heart for his Marine service in Viet Nam and is considered one of the most conservative members of the Virginia General Assembly.
Obviously trying to capture all the nuances that make up a school (academic performance, student body make up, student growth from year to year, staff effectiveness, culture and climate, etc.) is extremely difficult. (While students may receive a letter grade on a math test, this is a measure of something quite narrow, a much different proposition than a single grade for an entire school.)
A Blue Ribbon task force worked for two years in an effort to come up with a adequate grading system. However, their recommendations have basically been abandoned according to task force members. (Would be interesting to know how many hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars this exercise cost.)
New state superintendent Mike Sentence expressed his concern about A-F at the Oct. 13 meeting and said that he would not have recommended it to the state.
Educators were pleased with Sentance’s stand. One administrator told me their phone “blew up” with text messages Thursday afternoon from principals delighted to hear the news.
But this elation was short-lived in the world of Alabama education politics where the opinions of professional educators are usually ignored because on Oct. 18 superintendent Sentence, after meeting with a legislative committee, stated the A-F is law and will move forward.
Reaction was swift from educators who felt the rug had been pulled out from under them. The same administrator who was excited on Oct. 13 sent me a short text on Oct. 18 that said, “well hell.”