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LTE: Bill Turns Grades Back on Schools

Letter grades would add to accreditation ratings for schools, providing a clearer rank.

Congrats, your child is in a Priority School. Is that Good or Bad?

When my children come home with their report cards every quarter, my wife and I take time to sit them down and review their grades. While the conversation with each child takes 15-20 minutes, it does not take long to figure out how they did. An "A" in a class is very good...a "D" would not be so good. Unfortunately, understanding the overall performance of their school is not so easy.

Here in Virginia, we rate our public schools using words like "Priority School, Fully Accredited, Accreditation with Warning, Non-Accredited." These ratings are largely created using Standards of Learning test scores and a school's ability to meet various State and Federal standards. It is my experience that most citizens do not have a deep knowledge of our school rating system or even a good grasp of what the final ratings actually mean. Wouldn't it be nice to have a grading scale for our schools that we all naturally understood?

This week in the Virginia House of Delegates, we passed HB 1999, which requires the Board of Education to assign letter grades, A to F, to each school in the Commonwealth.

This legislation does not change the current accreditation rating system (although that is something I will look at next year), but rather it translates the current rating terms into terms that most people will understand: A to F. This transparent move will likely engage the consumer of public education, our parents, in a more direct way. Many parents that I know might be satisfied with an "accredited" school ... but would they be equally satisfied with a "C" school? Remember, the underlying school's performance has not changed ... but perhaps the community will demand more from a "C" school than they might have from an "accredited" school? 

Additionally, HB 1999 introduces a powerful concept that we have never implemented here in Virginia: "student growth measures." These measures will appropriately recognize teachers and schools who can effectively improve a child's performance over the course of the year. Student growth measures will help schools that have sub-groups of students who can't succeed on certain standardized tests, but are making significant annual progress. We need to move beyond standardized test scores as the most influential component of rating our schools, and introduce measures that will appropriately measure our teachers' hard work and success. 

Lastly, I have heard from several school boards and administrators from around the Commonwealth saying that HB 1999 will "upset parents who have children in C and D schools and cause them to call their School Boards and Superintendents to complain." I hope so! Every school can improve and we deserve to know exactly how our schools are performing ... even if that upsets the status quo in school ratings.

Del. Thomas A. Tag Greason (R-32), the author, chairs the Education Sub-Committee on Standards of Quality, and is the patron of HB 1999. He has three children that attend Loudoun County Public Schools. Greason represents much of Ashburn in Loudoun.

Richard Hardin February 09, 2013 at 09:46 PM
Thanks Tad. We know that however complex an issue may be, we can count on you for a simplistic solution. Without your leadership our progress towards Idiocracy would be slowed. And just think of all the hours I could have saved volunteering in schools, working in the PTA and supporting my children's teachers. All that was required was 20 minutes every nine weeks!

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