New policy brief shows A-F report cards deserve a failing grade
Composite grades fail to provide useful information
EAST LANSING, Mich. (Jan. 26, 2015) – No Child Left Behind (NCLB) required all states to develop accountability systems that would lead to all students being proficient in math and reading. Flexibility waivers now allow states to pursue comprehensive plans to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, and improve the quality of teaching.
One accountability approach is to assign A-F letter grades to schools. Today, 16 states have adopted accountability systems that assign A-F grades to schools, each with different rewards for schools that succeed, and correctives and punishments for those that fail in multiple consecutive years.
A new brief, Why School Report Cards Merit a Failing Grade, examines A-F accountability systems with respect to three kinds of validity: (1) as a measure of school quality; (2) as a policy instrument; and (3) as a democratic assessment framework. The authors find that A-F accountability systems are invalid along each of these lines.
The brief is written by Ken Howe, University of Colorado Boulder, along with doctoral candidate Kevin Murray, and is published by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.
Howe and Murray identify substantial problems with letter grades as a measure of school quality and find that expressing school quality in a single composite grade is flawed.
The authors of the brief endorse three recommendations recommended by other researchers:
They also suggest that indicators of school quality must:
To improve schools, they recommend policymakers avoid or eliminate A-F grading, which only promotes confusion, and replace it with a report card format that uses multiple school indicators that more adequately reflect a school performance profile.
"Rather than working to empower parents and community members in a way that promotes school improvement," Howe and Murray find that A-F accountability systems "are more likely to alienate parents from democratic participation in the education of their children."
Find the brief, Why School Report Cards Merit a Failing Grade, on the web:
This policy brief was produced by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado Boulder with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.
The brief can also be found on the NEPC website:
Kenneth R. Howe, University of Colorado Boulder, is professor in Educational Foundations, Policy, and Practice and past president of the Philosophy of Education Society. He specializes in education policy, professional ethics, and philosophy of education.
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