In 2015, the Texas legislature passed a bill creating an A-F grading system for public schools. The grade assigned to each school will be based on student performance on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness or STAAR test. The new system goes into effect today and UNT visiting professor Stephen Waddell explains why the new system might not be the best way to go.
What will these rankings – good or bad – mean for schools?
“These rankings are going to be very problematic for a lot of school districts,” Waddell said. “It will mean everything in terms of their image, how parents think about the schools their kids attend and even how realtors and people looking to relocate to their area perceive them.
“Unfortunately, these rankings are not necessarily reflective of how a school is performing. Parents are not going to know how these grades are derived, but regardless, they will use these grades to develop conclusions about their school.
“Anyone ranked lower than an A is going to be disappointed, and those schools in the range of C, D and F are really going to wonder what their district is doing wrong. But neither group will really have an adequate look at how their district is performing or understand how the rating was determined.
“It’s likely that the schools with the lower grades will be those with more poverty and more diversity, which in turn will continue to hurt these schools in their attempt to improve. In an A to F system, it is impossible for all schools to be A or B. So some schools, by nature of the system, will have to be D’s and F’s and it will most likely be those in greater poverty.”
How do these letter grade rankings work?
“These rankings are based mainly on STAAR test data. These are one-shot, multiple choice exams that the students take, and then the state has to go through a complicated process to translate this data into a single letter grade for a school. The calculations the state makes to come up with these letter grades are very complex. And in the end, people aren’t going to really understand what these letter grades mean for their district.
“The argument supporters like to make is that this is a simple and clearer way of reporting on school performance. However, this is the opposite of that. It’s not simple; it’s simplistic and certainly not clear.”
What could the state do instead? What do parents and communities want in school rankings?
“I’ve been doing consulting work for the past four years in nearly every part of the state – suburban, urban, rural, wealthy, poor. All communities say the same thing: there is too much emphasis on one test, and there are other things that should be considered and will give these rankings true value.“My view is that the state needs to work with local districts and communities to develop community-based accountability measures that are based on what parents and that community values. This can vary, but it can include things that help take a broader look at student performance – including portfolios, class projects, extracurricular activities and communication skills. These things often require more critical thinking skills and are better at demonstrating students’ abilities, knowledge and progress than a one-time, multiple-choice exam.”