Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Small: A-to-F grades provide transparency. Some school officials want to toss them.

A-F grades provide transparency
By Jonathan Small

A-to-F letter grades are a longstanding way of signifying academic achievement. That’s why some school officials now fight to get rid of grades for both students and schools.

In 2011, Oklahoma lawmakers voted to assign A-to-F grades to schools to give parents some indication of school performance and allow comparison with other districts. Ever since, status-quo defenders have sought to eliminate the transparency measure.

During a recent study, Bixby Public Schools Superintendent Rob Miller called for lawmakers to eliminate school grades. When asked why A-F grades are bad for schools if they are okay for students, Miller responded: “We are moving away from A-to-F grades as quickly as we possibly can,” but admitted Bixby still gives elementary students “a final grade, simply because our parents ask for it.”

The reason parents insist on letter grades for their children is the same reason letter grades for schools remain appropriate: Because they are easily understood. Everyone knows a D or F school is not acceptable.

Also, student performance and student growth remain major factors in the school-grading system—and rightfully so. Student-growth measurement, in particular, benefits schools because they are not penalized if a student begins the year performing below grade level so long as that child achieves a full year of academic growth by the year’s end. And if officials help that child catch up to grade level, the school’s grade improves.

Critics insist the system is not “fair” because “chronic absenteeism” is one factor in school grades. But school personnel, particularly school leadership, have a significant impact on whether a school’s culture encourages students and families to make sure students attend.

Furthermore, the grading system is not harsh. Of 1,568 school sites given a letter grade in the most recent round, only 27.4% received a D or F (with just 4.5% getting an F). That means 72.6% of Oklahoma public schools received a C or better.

In a state consistently ranked among the bottom 10 in academic outcomes that suggests a great deal of leniency is built into the system.

Even so, school officials complain: “Parents get upset when a school gets a D or an F.” “Businesses pay attention to school grades.”

Well, yes. Parents and business leaders should want their local school to be the best it can be, and to believe a D school is not the best they can expect.

The response to a low grade, whether for students or schools, is not to get rid of grading. The proper response is to reassess and work to improve your grades. Students do this all the time, and many schools have received low grades only to improve them over time.

Each year, Oklahoma taxpayers are asked to increase school funding by millions. They have every right to ask for measurement of the results.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.


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