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Thursday, April 16, 2015

School Performance Grades: What they do and don't do

The Arkansas Department of Education has just published the new A-F grades for the state's public schools. By my count, there are 1,050 traditional public schools and open-enrollment charter schools listed in this report. The grading system was mandated by Act 696 of 2013. 


Four criteria were used to determine a school's grade:  
  • How well students are performing in math and literacy on statewide tests such as the Benchmark and End of Course exams. 
  • Whether schools are meeting yearly student performance goals and showing improvement or expected growth for all students. 
  • Whether schools are meeting graduation goals for all students and at-risk groups. 
  • Whether the school has an achievement gap and if that gap is sizable.
What the letter grades don't do is measure how well an individual student or teacher is doing or take into consideration other things the school may be doing well, such as meeting students’ nutrition and health needs or how well students are performing in other subject areas. (Source:  Arkansas Department of Education)

For the record,  I generally do not agree with assigning a school an A-F grade. 

For one thing, I don't see that it is helpful; if a parent wants to know how a school is performing, he/she can easily look up the school's performance data and get more useful, in-depth information than the letter grade will show. Instead, letter grades often stigmatize schools that, for a variety of reasons beyond their control but usually associated with lack of resources, are classified as low-achieving. 

For another, the ADE does not specify which of 4 different categories might cause a school's grade to be lower than desired, so stakeholders are left to wonder, for example, whether overall achievement is low, or whether a school (even a high-achieving school) might not be "improving." 

That said, considering we are stuck with them for now, you can find out each school's letter grade here and a simple explanation of what the ADE thinks it means here .

Here is a link to an article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette with more information and reaction by education stakeholders to the new rating system.


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