School Grades

One of the aspects of the accountability system with the most negative repercussions is the School Grading System, which provides an A – F grade for all K-12 public schools. At the elementary level, grading formulas are based 100% on FSA scores (including learning gains, which are measured by the same test). At the middle and high schools levels other factors are involved, but the majority of the formula is still based on these tests. This doesn’t take into account known factors that effect student test scores that are beyond the control of the teacher or the school (i.e. socioeconomic environment, parent involvement, absenteeism, etc.).

The Florida Board of Education has the authority to set cut scores (passing scores on the tests) as well as change the grading formula itself in order to manipulate the outcome, further questioning the validity of decisions made based on these tests. In fact, that has happened several times during the course of the school grading system. Newspaper headlines include: “State may see more ‘F’ schools: Changes in system may net more failures” (2002); “FCAT-grade criteria to get tougher” (2003); “New FCAT issues raised: Some say tests easier” (2004); “FCAT reading scores on the decline” (2005); “Florida schools granted leeway: It may mean more public schools pass” (2005); “School grading system may change” (2008); “School grades postponed until FCAT audit” (2010); “FCAT scores lower for third graders, state drops standards for more students to pass” (2012); “School grades drop under new formula” (2013); “Florida House approves new school grading formula” (2014); “A small but meaningful change in Florida’s school grading system” (2016) “School grades: Administrators fear worse A-F marks this year” (2016).  The rate at which cut scores can change certainly questions the reliability of decisions made based on those scores.

A Questionable System

Given the statistical research indicating known biases with using standardized tests results for high stakes decisions, it’s no wonder that simple census data can be used to predict school grades. This renders those grades questionable at best, and it is certainly not advisable to use these scores for high-stakes decisions. This blog provides a good summary of what Florida’s school grades really tell us.

A 2015 Gallup Poll sought public input about teachers, teaching and school reform. Among the findings:

  • About two-thirds of Americans say there is “too much emphasis on standardized testing” in public schools, and a strong majority—about 8 in 10—believes the effectiveness of their local public schools should be measured by “how engaged the students are with their classwork.”
  • Only 14% report “scores that students receive on standardized tests” as “very important” measures of schools’ effectiveness.
  • 55% oppose requirements that “teacher evaluations include how well a teacher’s students perform on standardized tests.”
  • When asked directly about which approaches would provide the most accurate picture of a student’s academic progress, the public favored “examples of the student’s work” (38%); “written observations by the teacher” (26%); and “grades awarded by the teacher” (21%). By contrast, “scores on standardized achievement tests” represented only 16% of selections.

We owe it to our schools, teachers and students to develop a better way of measuring quality and ensuring accountability.