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Parents: Your Child’s A-F School Grade May Not Be What You Think It Is

• Leanne Norr

Sixteen states across America have adopted A-F School grading models to measure school progress in a way parents and the public understand.

Florida implemented A-F school grades in 1999 and the results are compelling. In the first year, 677 Florida schools earned “D” or “F” grades. That dropped to 181 schools in 2010. The number of schools earning an A or B grew from 515 to 2,044.

The grades reflected real progress as Florida’s NAEP scores improved, graduation rates increased and participation in AP classes soared. Not all states adopting the grading system have seen similar improvements.

Why? Adopting the A-F system is important, but it must be backed by a credible calculation model so the grades accurately represent school performance.

That means measuring what each student learns each year against a rigorous standard – instead of how well a student did compared to their peers. It is only then that the academic needs of all students in all schools will be met.

My mother knew as much back when I was in school.

I once came home with a C+ on a tough science test. Usually I earned A’s And B’s, but was happy in this case because the C+ put me in the top 15 percent of the class.

My mom saw things differently.

“I don’t care how the rest of your class did” she replied. “I care about how YOU do. I know you can do better.”

Just like my mom didn’t accept my grade, although it was considered “good” compared to my peers, parents shouldn’t accept school grades for face value in states that compare students against each other.

A better system sets a pre-determined, high standard for all students. It includes the amount of growth a student must make to demonstrate a year’s worth of progress in a year’s time. This determines whether or not the student has learned a year’s worth of knowledge in a year’s time.

In a calculation based on peer comparisons, there will always be students who make growth relative to others and students who do not, regardless of how well or poorly the students are performing. Even if student performance improves substantially across the state, there will still be a constant set of students determined to not be making growth, only because a higher proportion of their cohort is performing better than usual.

Criterion-based growth models are the fairest, because they measure what matters – whether each student is learning each year.

It’s not enough to merely grade schools. States must raise the bar in their grading calculations. This will give the system credibility so parents can trust the information and make informed decisions about their children’s education.

It’s now time for these grades to be meaningful in every state across the country.

About the author

Leanne Norr

Leanne serves as Deputy Communications Director for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Prior to joining the Foundation, she served as Director of Online Communications for U.S. Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, where she managed the House Armed Services Committee Chairman’s digital strategy and led him to become one of the Top 10 Members of Congress on social media. Previously, she was Field Director and E-Campaign Strategist for U.S. Congressman Dave Reichert’s campaign. During her time in D.C., Leanne served on the Board of Directors for Ladies DC, the capital’s largest network of professional women. By developing a robust online presence, she helped expand the Ladies America organization into seven chapters nationwide. She also has past political, advocacy, and marketing experience at the Washington State Republican Party, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Kotis Design. Leanne graduated from The University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in political science.