Local board not happy about new A-F grading system

Governor Bob McDonnell announced that the Virginia Board of Education unanimously approved an A-F grading system that will assign letter grades to schools based on the percentages of students demonstrating proficiency, academic growth and college and career readiness. Initial letter grades will be announced at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year and will accompany school accreditation ratings.

But not all Virginia school systems are happy with the bill passed by the General Assembly based on performance, state and federal accountability standards and student growth indicators.

“As the School Board has discussed during the recent development of its 2014 legislative platform, we oppose the A-F School Grading Formula being developed,” said Carrie Coyner, Bermuda District School Board Member. “Many statewide educational organizations – such as the Virginia School Boards Association, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents and the Virginia Education Association – are opposed to this effort as well. The A-F rating systems used in other states continue to be under attack because they are ‘flawed and inconsistent.’”

According to an article in the Washington Post on Saturday, “In Virginia, there is growing resistance to the examinations the state uses to evaluate students. More than 35 school boards across Virginia, as well as some chambers of commerce and other groups, have passed resolutions calling on education officials to revamp the Standards of Learning testing system in what amounts to growing pushback to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s school-reform agenda.The resolutions say that there is ‘little research’ to show that students ‘will be better prepared to succeed in their careers and college’ by taking the 34 standardized tests the state gives to each child between grades three and 11.”

The article also stated, “Other states have had other problems with school grading systems they adopted. A new study of Oklahoma’s A-through-F school-grading system found, for example, that tiny differences in student standardized test scores can mean the difference between being an A or an F school.”

Governor McDonnell praise the State School Board for their diligence in, “ supporting this commonsense reform to bring accountability and transparency to Virginia public schools.”
Ms. Coyner disagrees  with the “comprehensive reform” McDonnell has suggested.

“At best, the new system will be redundant considering Virginia’s existing use of school and division report cards and state accreditation ratings.  Adding another system likely would only add confusion.  For example, a school could be “Fully Accredited” yet earn a “B” or potentially a “C” rating,” Ms. Coyner wrote in an email. “If there are issues with the current system, we should address them specifically.”

Bonus points based on the percentage of students earning advanced scores on Standards of Learning (SOL) tests in the four core content areas and for meeting all federal accountability benchmarks. Likewise high schools can earn a capped number of bonus points based on advanced performance on SOL assessments and for meeting all federal accountability goals.

“I have yet to see any evidence to suggest that adding another school ‘label’ will increase student growth.   The state continues to figure out new ways to measure and assess instead of concentrating on what is most important: effective teaching, learning and student growth. Let’s take some time to support teachers; give them the tools, training and resources they need to be successful and stop trying to provide new ‘labels.’  We have plenty of accountability measures for the public, SOL data, SAT data, dual enrollment data, teacher performance data, etc.

“We acknowledge that there are schools across the Commonwealth struggling and facing great challenges.  However, I have never seen a problem fixed by continuing to find new ways to measure it or label it,” wrote Coyner. 

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