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Letter Grades for Schools?
Monday, 22 February 2010

February 22--  (By State Sen. Tommie Williams and State Rep. David Casas)

.. When parents send their child to school, they want to know their child is in an academic environment with a high learning standard that encourages growth and development.   Right now, all they have to go on is reputation.

In Georgia, we have a fuzzy system of ranking schools based on test scores and graduation rates. What parents really need is more transparency in their child’s education.  What they need is a report card of their local school.

Under a legislative proposal before the General Assembly, Georgia would join Florida in grading schools on a simple scale, giving parents all the information they need to find out just what’s happening in their child’s school.

This legislation would simply grade schools on an A through F scale, just as students are graded. That way, frustrated parents, teachers, and others interested in the performance of a school could get a more accurate picture of daily school activities from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The idea is simple: Schools should be evaluated in a way parents can easily comprehend. The current system of AYP, or adequate yearly progress, is convoluted even for the most involved educator.

Meeting AYP standards has turned into a gamed system that does not provide meaningful recognition of a school’s performance.  The recent cheating scandal over our state’s CRCT test scores has further confirmed the public’s perception of a dysfunctional and easily manipulated system.  This underscores the need for more accountability and transparency. 

Our neighbors in the Sunshine State shifted to a letter grade system more than a decade ago, forcing significant change in public schools. Parents understand when a school receives an “F” and they demand improvement. They don’t understand when a school doesn’t meet AYP for three years running and the consequences for administrators and school bureaucrats.

A letter grade system has led to significant student achievement in Florida.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, Florida’s dropout rate is now more than 25 percent lower than Georgia’s, and their gains on the NAEP reading test (commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card) are significantly greater. Studies by the National Bureau for Economic Research and the Heritage Foundation have attributed these gains to using letter grades. This is proven, common-sense reform that our students deserve.

Everyone understands the difference between excellence and failure, or an “A” and an “F”.  Calculating letter grades for schools will be relatively simple. A year’s worth of learning will be the standard.  The more students who exhibit one year’s worth of learning in one year’s time, the higher a school’s letter grade will be. If more than 90 percent of students earn a year or more of learning in a year’s time, then the school earns an “A.” 

This approach is more accurate and fair than the current AYP model, which despite its name, ignores individual students’ academic progress.  By ignoring student progress, AYP penalizes schools that serve a large population of disadvantaged children.

Additionally, our letter grade proposal gives special attention to children who score in the bottom 25 percent of their class. To receive a high letter grade, schools must ensure that these students are making the year-to-year gains. This part of our plan will give schools an incentive to focus on all children, especially those who need the most help.

Some say that it will be difficult to implement letter grades in Georgia.  However, Florida exemplifies the feasibility and effectiveness of such a system. 

We are not suggesting that Florida is always better than Georgia.  To the contrary, Georgia has smaller class sizes, much higher teacher pay and a more rigorous curriculum than Florida.  To continue our improvement, we need to replicate good ideas.  Letter grades for public schools are a proven concept -- originated by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush -- that can give Georgia parents a clearer picture of their child’s education.

 

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Sen. Tommie Williams serves as President Pro Tempore.  He represents the 19th Senate District, which includes Appling, Jeff Davis, Long, Montgomery, Toombs, Wayne, and Wheeler counties and a portion of Liberty and Tattnall counties.  He can be reached at 404.656.0089 or by email at tommie.williams@Senate.ga.gov.

 

Representative David Casas represents the citizens of District 103, which includes portions of Gwinnett County. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 2002, and is currently the Vice Chairman of the Economic Development & Tourism Committee. He also serves on the Appropriations, Education, and Rules Committees. 
 
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