What color is a great school?

A great school isn’t just an “A” school in today’s “accountability” era. It’s also a green one.

Bad ones aren’t just F’s but they are also green. In-between schools, depending on just how the students perform, can be orange, yellow or lime (not to be confused with green).

It may sound like a class of kindergarteners came up with this color-schemed way to judge schools, but it was actually adults in Michigan who, not surprisingly (given the illogic of it) are already reconsidering its value just a few months after it went into effect, according to this Associated Press story in the Lansing State Journal.

Michigan is one of a growing number of states that rates its schools on student performance. In about 15 states, such as Florida, the chosen method is by slapping A-F grades on schools depending on standardized test scores.  Oklahoma has one of those A-F systems too, but a new study about that system by researchers at  the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University found so many problems with the way it is constructed that they viewed it at best worthless. They concluded that, given that very small differences in student standardized test scores can mean the difference between being an A or an F school, the system shouldn’t be used for making any important decisions about anybody or any school.

Michigan opted for what was supposed to  be a user-friendly color-coded ranking system that looked at student test scores in mathematics, reading, writing, science and social studies, as well as graduation rate data for high schools.

Green Attain 85% or greater of possible points
Lime Attain at least 70% but less than 85% of possible points
Yellow Attain at least 60% but less than 70% of possible points
Orange Attain at least 50% but less than 60% of possible points
Red Attain less than 50% of possible points

 

Last August, the state released the first school ratings based on that system, and in a release on the Web site, state Superintendent Mike Flanagan was quoted as saying:

This new color-coded system provides a meaningful diagnostic tool that gives schools, districts, parents, and the public an easy way to identify strengths and weaknesses. It provides greater transparency and detail on multiple levels of school performance.

Maybe not. Problems were immediately cited, when schools known to be high-performing turned out to be “red schools,” and new schools that had no data on which to actually rate them were rated green, or at the top of the scale. Now, according to the AP story, legislators are reviewing the system and reconsidering whether to replace it with an A-F system because, as  House Education Committee Chairwoman Lisa Posthumus Lyons, an Alto Republican, was quoted as saying:

It’s not clear, it’s not concise and it’s not transparent. Nobody knows what a lime green means, but everybody knows what an A means.

She has introduced legislation in Michigan not only to replace the colors with letters but also to change the way the grades are actually calculated. Maybe someone in Michigan will figure out how much money the taxpayers wasted coming up with the first system, and then ask why it makes sense to pay another dime trying to devise an A-F system, which  have also been found to be flawed.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · October 28, 2013