Friday, February 20, 2015

Will School Accountability ever move into the 21st Century???

In 8th grade, I failed my first class ever.  I made a 68.48 in language arts.  Yes, .48. I failed by .02 of a point!  I did the math. I argued with the teacher and pleaded my case, but there was no changing her mind.  The grade was final, and there was nothing I could do about it.  It was the worst feeling ever knowing that I was officially a failure, but what made it worse was knowing that I didn't fail because of English. I failed because of my behavior.

My initial response was to blame the teacher for her inflexiblity, but I couldn't.  Her decision was one that was grounded in systemic approval and acceptance.  Calculating behavior and other non-learning factors into a student's grade was not only acceptable, it was the grading system.  What I learned was this; a grade really wasn't a reflection of learning; it was a combination of learning, compliance and other subjective factors.

Well, if I thought the embarrassment of my grade was bad, I had no idea just how terrible the consequences of my grade were going to be.  I was a member of the National Junior Honor Society.  Not any more.  I made the All-Region band, but now I was out.  Because I "failed", I was now a member of the Texas "No Pass-No Play" club.  I had earned a new distinction, and it wasn't one that I was proud of.

So What's in a Grade?

Well, if you've been in education for any amount of time as a teacher, student or parent, you've asked this question at least once. "How did you come up with that grade?"  Whether it was a failing grade, an 89 or a 79, frustration or confusion has arisen when trying to determine any grading policy. 

Well there's lots of ways to come up with a grade, but the best definition of a grade was written way back in 1957. 

Source:  Mike Mattos

So Let's Grade Schools on a 20th Century Scale

Well it only makes sense to give schools a grade. After all, we give kids a grade, right?  The system was good enough for us when we went to school, and we have to have some way to communicate how good of a job that schools are doing.  But before we slap a rating on schools, I would like to analyze current grading systems and the consequences and confusion that follows. 

1.  Met or Didn't Met Expectations

This is such an arbitrary system, and it's hard to understand why one school met expectations while another one didn't.  There are so many factors that contribute to the rating, and a simple notation of meeting or not meeting the mark confuses more than it conveys.   For example, schools in need of improvement often receive the label due to one of a multitude of indicators that were negatively affected by a few students. This overall designation of deficiency gives the community at-large the impression that the entire school is failing. 

2. A-F Rating System

How do you determine who gets an A and who gets a B?  What's the difference between a D & an F?  At the end of the day, if your school doesn't make the A, you're not good enough. At least that's what the grade will communicate to stakeholders when they read the score on the front page of the paper. The problem with this system is that a letter grade doesn't tell the whole story, and it doesn't communicate the factors that comprise the grade. Furthermore, the grade tells the community that your school is awesome, acceptable or awful. 

Fixed Minded Accountability  is so 20th Century, Let's  Measure Schools in the 21st Century

If learning is about the growth of an individual student, then let's have a system that gauges a school's growth.  The problem with fixed accountabilty systems is that the ratings don't show progress.  We preach the importance of learning as a  process over time.  We need an accountability system that affirms the performance of a school and measures the school's growth.

Here is one way that we could use to assign a grade based on 2 factors:  a school's growth in helping more kids learn at higher levels and a school's performance compared to its peers.

School Accountability Focused on Growth

+The school made sufficient growth from last year in helping all kids learn.+The school's performance is above the average performance of like schools.
OThe school maintained it's current progress from last year in helping all kids learn.OThe school's performance is on target with the average performance of like schools.
-The school declined from it's performance last year.-The school's performance is below the average performance of like schools.

A rating system like this would give stakeholders a good perspective on a school's overall academic health.  Is the school improving and is the school performing above similar schools?  In this table, if a school is declining and performing below its peer schools, you can easily tell that significant change needs to be made.  If a school is performing below the average performance of its peers but is growing, you can also tell that systems are working and need more time to bring the school up to acceptable levels of performance.  The idea is this.  A school shouldn't be judged on a single set of data based on a single year, but the school can be more fairly evaluated when it's performance is evaluated over time.  After all, isn't that what great teachers do for kids.

What are your thoughts?


  1. I love the Paul Dressel quote and would love to find the original source. Any ideas where I might find it?

  2. When we focus on learning, we help children grow; when we focus on grading, we often sabotage their growth.