Va. Board of Education begins to develop formula for grading schools

As Virginia’s Board of Education began working this week to develop a formula for assigning letter grades to public schools, some board members said they are proceeding carefully.

“I do get concerned . . . once the label’s there, it’s hard to take that label off,” said board member Billy K. Cannaday, Jr.

The first A to F grades won’t be given until fall 2014, but a law passed by the General Assembly earlier this year required the board to come up with a formula for determining what separates the A and B schools from the D and F schools, starting this summer.

The first task is to agree on a list of measures that can be used to evaluate how much individual students learn in a given year.

These growth measures are intended to provide a more fair look at schools than end-of-year test scores, which tend to be lower for schools serving a lot of students who are learning English or who come from impoverished homes.

At its meeting Thursday, the board considered a staff recommendation with the following list of potential growth measures. The list is likely to change before board members approve it at the end of July.

Elementary schools and middle schools would be graded on one or more of the following metrics:

1. Percent of students that maintain a pass/proficient or pass/advanced performance level from one year to the next on state reading or math tests

2. Percent of students that move to a higher performance level from one year to the next (progress from basic to proficient or above; progress from proficient to advanced) on state reading or math tests

3. Percent of students that make significant improvement within the below basic or basic performance level on state reading or math tests

OR

1. Percent of students obtaining a student growth percentile (a calculation that measures how much students improve relative to similar students) on the state reading or math test that indicates moderate or high growth

2. Percent of students obtaining a year’s worth of progress as measured on additional reading or math tests approved by the board

3. Percent of lowest performing 25 percent of students making growth on state reading or math tests or making a year’s worth of progress as measured on additional reading reading or math tests approved by the board.

According to Patricia I. Wright, Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction, it’s more difficult to calculate a growth measure for high schools because students are not required to take annual state tests in reading and math and take very different courses. The staff recommended assigning a growth score to each student at the end of 12th grade based on whether they met — and exceeded — graduation requirements.

High schools would be graded on one or more of the following metrics:

1. Percent of graduates earning an advanced studies diploma

2. Percent of graduates earning an advanced scores on one or more of the SOL tests in Algebra II, Writing, or Reading

3. Percent of graduates earning a standard diploma and two or more board-approved career and technical education credentials

4. Percent of graduates earning a standard diploma and at least three dual enrollment credits

5. Percent of graduates earning a standard diploma and college ready scores on the SAT or ACT

6. Percent of graduates earning a standard diploma and a score of “3” or greater on at least one Advanced Placement test

7. Percent of graduates earning a standard diploma and “college ready” scores on at least one International Baccalaureate exam

8. Percent of graduates earning a standard diploma and successfully completing courses in Algebra II and Chemistry or earning passing scores on state end-of-course exams

9. Percent of students participating in an AP, IB, or dual enrollment course out of the total number of 11th and 12th grade students

10. Percent of graduates earning a standard or advanced studies diploma who failed the grade 8 reading or math test

Board member Chris Braunlich pointed out at the meeting that the high school measurements don’t technically measure growth. Board members also said they were concerned they don’t capture the performance of students who don’t make it to graduation.

Growth measures are only one part of the formula that lawmakers approved for the grading scale. Schools will also be evaluated by state test scores and graduation rates, as well as other measures included in state and federal accountability requirements.

The bigger question board members have to tackle will come this fall when they decide how much weight to give growth measures compared to the other components of the formula.

Many educators are concerned that too heavy an emphasis on test results will disadvantage schools serving students with higher needs.

We don’t want a set of labels that “fails to recognize progress that schools are making in the face of challenging demographics,” said Virginia Board of Education President David M. Foster.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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