Thursday, February 3, 2011

Quick version without background: Utah is copying New York's school grading system, not Florida's

The Senate Education Committee is voting on SB 59 School Grading System today at 2:15.

I have more to add about the methodology and effectiveness of the bill and the newest information about Florida's school grade improvement but here is the book excerpt I will include again in a post today or tomorrow.

Diane Ravitch is an educational historian who advised both George Herbert Bush and George W. bush on education and was a strong supporter of “market based” reforms and No Child Left Behind. She explains in her book why she has changed her position on many of these reforms after reviewing results.

From The Death and Life of the Great American School System. The underlined section was underlined by me.

pg. 164
Another (albeit mixed) example of positive accountability can be found in Florida, where the state gives a single letter grade, ranging from A to F, to all public schools. This is a practice I abhor, as I think it is harmful to stigmatize a complex institution with a letter grade, just as ridiculous to send a child home with a report card that contained only a single letter grade to summarize her performance in all her various courses and programs. That said, after the grades are handed out, the state quickly steps in to help the D and F schools with technical support, consultants, coaches, and materials. As a result of the state's supportive response, most of the low-rated schools have improved. For nearly seven years, the state sanctioned F-rated schools by giving vouchers to their students, who could use them to attend a private or better-performing public school. In 2006, a Florida court declared the voucher program unconstitutional.

pg. 85-87
The accountability movement entered a new phase in the fall of 2007, when the DOE revealed what it called progress reports for each school. Each school received a single letter grade, from A to F. This approach mirrored the grading system introduced in Florida by then-governor Jeb Bush a few years earlier. Most of each school's grade was based on year-to-year changes in standardized test scores (its "progress"), as compared to a group of schools that were demographically similar; if a school's scores went up, it was likely to win an A or B. If they remained flat or slipped, the school was almost certain to get a C, D, or F.

Some excellent schools, known for their sense of community and consistently high scores, received an F because their scores dipped by a few points. Some very low-performing schools, even some schools the State Education Department ranked as persistently dangerous, received an A because they showed some improvement.

To add to the confusion, the city's grades were inconsistent with the ratings issued by the State Education Department in accordance with No Child Left Behind. If schools failed to meet their adequate yearly progress goals under the federal NCLB law, they were called SINI schools, or "schools in need of improvement." If schools consistently performed poorly, the state called them SURR schools or "schools under registration review." In the first year hat school grades were issued, the city awarded an A or B to about half of the 350 schools the state said were SINI or SURR. More than half of the fifty schools that received an F from the city were in good standing with the state and the federal law. The next year, 89 percent of the F schools were in good standing according to NCLB standards, as were 48 percent of D schools.

In 2009, the city's accountability system produced bizarre results. An amazing 84 percent of 1,058 elementary and middle schools received an A (compared with 23 percent in 2007), and an additional 13 percent got a B. Only twenty-seven schools received a grade of C, D, or F. Even four schools the state said were "persistently dangerous" received an A. The Department of Education hailed these results as evidence of academic progress, but the usually supportive local press was incredulous. The New York Post called the results "ridiculous" and said, "As it stands now, the grades convey nearly no useful information whatsoever." The New York Daily News described the reports as a "stupid card trick" and a "big flub" that rendered the annual school reports "nearly meaningless to thousands of parents who look to the summaries for guidance as to which schools serve kids best."

The debacle of the grading system had two sources: First, it relied on year-to-year changes in scores, which are subject to random error and are thus unreliable. Second, the scores were hugely inflated by the state's secret decision to lower the points needed to advance on state tests. Consequently, the city's flawed grading system produced results that few found credible, while the Department of Education was obliged to pay teachers nearly $30 million in bonuses--based on dumbed-down state tests--as part of its "merit pay" plan.

How could parents make sense of the conflicting reports from the city, state, and federal accountability systems? Should they send their children to a school that got an A from the city, even though the state said the same school was low-performing and persistently dangerous? Should they pull their child out of a highly regarded neighborhood school where 90 percent of the kids passed the state exams but the city gave it an F? The city had no plan to improve low-performing schools, other than to warn them that they were in danger of being closed down. Shame and humiliation were considered adequate remedies to spur improvement. Pedro Noguera of New York University observed that the Department of Education failed to provide the large schools with the support and guidance they needed to improve. "They don't have a school-change strategy," Noguera said. "They have a school-shutdown strategy." Chancellor Klein acknowledged that opening and closing schools was an essential element in the market-based system of school choice that he preferred. He said "It's basically a supply-and-demand pattern...This is about improving the system, not necessarily about improving every single school." But there was no reason to believe that closing a school and opening a new one would necessarily produce superior results; in fact, half of the city's ten worst-performing schools on the state math tests in 2009 were new schools that had been opened to replace failing schools. [My note: SB 59 has no provisions to assist "F" schools in any way. Howard Stephenson has a bill in the chute to close a certain numbers of schools each year. He apparently means to replace them with charter schools that can limit the number of students and online classes. The extra students who aren't accepted to the charter schools or who need more help than an online class can further.]


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this blog. I don't have time to drive up to Salt Lake and listen in to what is going on at the capitol, so I'm eternally grateful that I'm still able to be kept up to date on what's happening. Info from DN or the Trib pales in comparison to this.

UtahTeacher said...

I appreciate the comment. I wish I could add more content, but time is hard these days. I'm using @UtahTeacher on twitter for shorter comments on current bills.

And make sure you realize this passed in 2011. SB175 this year is delaying the grading system for another year because they are realizing how difficult it is to grade such a diverse, multi-variable system as a school.

Anonymous said...

Oh, bahaha. Yes, I know this was from 2011. I had been reading all your posts and by the time I got to this one I thought to myself, "I have GOT to say something. This is fantastic." So, thank you again. Much appreciated.

Just a question, how much of your time does this actually take out of your schedule? I imagine a lot...

UtahTeacher said...

Well thank you.

As you can see from my output over the last few years, this doesn't take much time because I just don't do enough of it. I have become a bit of an article/information hoarder since 2007 and have dozens of post topics in my head, but I don't post much because I do spend a lot of time on most posts.

Just following the legislature really impacts me while they are in session. I've been burning the candle on both ends and feeling kind of tired. That's why I'm using Twitter a lot more--I hate the character limit, but it allows me to quickly address more things by forcing me to be succinct.