Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Our School Rating and Grading System Is a Failure!

Click here to view a new white paper produced by Superintendent Kelli Joseph of the St. Helena Parish public school system. It describes how the present school performance score system and the school and district letter grades derived from it are unfair and unproductive for rating public schools in Louisiana. This Advocate story summarizes the reports' findings.  It emphasizes the unfairness of the system in rating small, rural and highly impoverished school districts relative to larger, richer districts. The white paper also suggests basic changes that should improve the school rating system.

My opinion is that while the changes proposed by St. Helena are helpful, the entire premise behind the school rating system is inherently flawed.  BESE policy requires that the school ratings must be based primarily on student test results. If its purpose was to inform the public about the level of educational services provided to students in schools and school districts, then the rating system fails miserably. The rating system does not tell parents or taxpayers anything about the quality of educational services provided to students. As Bruce Baker, Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, and researcher Gerald Bracey have argued often, educational rankings tend to reveal more about conditions outside of the school’s control than about the quality of education. Overwhelmingly in all types of educational rankings the greatest predictor of high or low rankings is wealth or poverty.

Here is a letter to The Advocate by a school activist in East Baton Rouge Parish that describes the unfairness and ultimate futility of the state school rating system from the point of view of a citizen that simply wants to tackle the real problems affecting our schools.

The following is the most concise and accurate summary I can make of the present school rating and grading system used in Louisiana:
The rating of school systems and schools based solely on a ranking of student outcomes as measured by standardized tests focused on narrow subject areas, guarantees that school systems serving the most disadvantaged students will always be rated at the bottom of the ranking. When that ranking is expressed using a letter grading system, the schools and school systems serving the most disadvantaged students will always be rated as D’s and F’s.

When schools are ranked based totally on standardized testing focused on narrow academic achievement, the guaranteed result is that half the schools will be rated above average and half the schools will be rated below average.  That is a statistical fact, not a fair judgment of performance of the educators of the various districts. Even if all educators in all school systems are functioning at a maximum level of efficiency and dedication, the rating of the schools will be directly proportional to the average wealth and privilege of the students attending each district. Louisiana has over fifteen years of data that proves this relationship. Considering this established fact, what is the purpose of stigmatizing and demoralizing the educators serving the most disadvantaged students?

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