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Opportunity School District may be dead, but A-F rating system lives on

With the exception of the press and politicians, it doesn't appear anyone else in Georgia pays much attention to annual school ratings. Parents seem either baffled by the arcane underpinnings of ratings or skeptical of valuations that don't reflect their experiences.

School ratings suffer two flaws; they're either overly simplistic, ignoring demographics and socioeconomics, or incredibly complex, incorporating everything from attendance to perceptions.

Georgia bewildered parents with its ponderous College and Career Ready Performance Index that distills an array of factors into a single numerical rating. Parents had to decipher growth from performance and then figure out the extra bonus points.

Along with a CCRPI score assigned through the Department of Education, Georgia schools now earn an A-F grade through the Governor's Office of Student Achievement, a vestige of the now vanquished Opportunity School District. The OSD would have been populated by schools that earned an F rating from GOSA.

Even though the OSD proposal was killed by voters, the grading plan is apparently still alive.

As AJC education reporter Ty Tagami reported today:

Last year, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement unveiled an A-F grading system for schools. It was a simpler take on the nuanced -- some would say too complicated -- 110 point College and Career Ready Performance Index already established by the Georgia Department of Education.

Martha Ann Todd, the GOSA executive director, sees her agency’s new grading system as “parent-friendly, concise reports,” but the state’s largest teacher organization thinks it is ineffective.

The Georgia School Reports website “does a poor job of communicating why students are struggling in high-needs schools and what interventions may help them,” the Professional Association of Georgia Educators told its members in an email Wednesday.

With the beginning of the next legislative session imminent, it was a broadsides against GOSA and its new grading system. PAGE noted the state law mandating the A-F school rankings (Ga. Code 20-14-104) was repealed by the failure of Amendment 1 in November. That referendum, which called for the creation of a statewide Opportunity School District, would have relied on the grading system to identify the “F” schools subject to state takeover.

But Todd on Wednesday showed no indication that she was changing course. Indeed, she told members of the House Appropriations Committee that her agency plans to expand the A-F system in coming weeks, layering on new elements that will give the public more readily accessible information.

A preliminary report for the DOE's Every Student Succeeds Act Working Committees suggests Georgia grades its schools more harshly than neighboring states. In "Comparisons and Systems Research of States’ Accountability Measures," University of Georgia researcher Richard Welsh held up Georgia to other Southern states and high-achieving states.

He writes:

Of the five Southeastern states analyzed, only two other states have letter grades for performance. Georgia schools have to earn 82% of possible points or greater to earn an ‘A,’ whereas Louisiana schools must earn 67% or greater and Florida schools 62% or greater. Georgia schools have to earn 53% of possible points or less to earn an ‘F’, whereas Louisiana schools must earn 32% or less and Florida schools 31% or less. Overall, it appears that Georgia has a harsher grading scale than other Southeastern states. Georgia’s accountability system appears to identify the tails of school performance distribution fairly accurately (A & F schools), however, the middle of the distribution (B, C, and D schools) appear to be the schools that would trend higher on other states’ accountability models (especially Southeastern states).

Welsh also finds Georgia diverts from other states in evaluating all its schools by the same yardstick:

Overall, states generally place emphasis on growth at the elementary level, whereas proficiency and other indicators to gauge college and career readiness play a larger role in high schools; however, Georgia uses uniform achievement and growth weights across grade levels. Georgia’s use of achievement gap and bonus points warrants further consideration.

The accountability components are not always the same across grades. Typically, college and career readiness is included in middle and/or high schools and graduation rates in high schools. In Kentucky, Virginia, Florida, Louisiana and Massachusetts each schooling level has different components, with high schools generally having the most components. Conversely, Georgia, New Jersey and Tennessee apply the same elements across elementary, middle and high schools. In Maryland and New Hampshire, elementary, middle and high schools apply the same number of accountability components but the components applied at each level are not identical

Welsh explores how Georgia’s schools would be rated in other states, explaining Georgia’s letter grade scale is more stringent than Louisiana’s and Florida’s.

For example, an A school in Louisiana is 100 out of 150 or roughly schools gaining about two-thirds or above of the possible points on the school performance measure (compared to Georgia where A schools need about four-fifths of the points or above to be considered A schools).  The results indicate that a C school in Georgia would be an A school in Louisiana, a D school in Georgia would be a B school in Louisiana, and an F school in Georgia would be a C school in Louisiana. The results are similar when Georgia’s school grading scale is compared to Florida’s.

Compared to other Southeastern states with a school grading scale (letter grades) (Florida, Louisiana), Georgia has a more stringent grading scale. For instance, an A school in Florida & Louisiana needs roughly 2/3 of the points whereas in Georgia an A school needs about 4/5 of the points.  Although the high-performing states included in this preliminary report do not have letter grades, overall, the top rating for schools is typically associated with earning roughly 75% of the points of the performance index. Overall, it appears that Georgia has a tougher grading scale than other Southeastern and high-performing states.

Do you think parents care about ratings? Is there a better way to rate schools? If so, how?

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.