Virginia’s students may not be alone in receiving report cards with glaring letter grades based on their performance. Their schools may soon have to stomach the same labels.
A bill approved by the Virginia House of Delegates Monday would require the Board of Education to assign grades, A through F, to individual schools based on their students’ progress.
The bill, patroned by Del. Tag Greason (R-32), is designed to help translate for parents the arguably cumbersome rankings given to public schools through students’ achievement in English, history/social science, mathematics and science. As is, the Virginia Department of Education website includes a guide to help the public understand Virginia’s system for holding schools accountable, as well as an “accountability terminology” reference.
“Using an A through F grade scale will allow parents and communities to see how their schools are performing in a simple and transparent way,” Greason, who represents parts of eastern Loudoun, said. “We want to promote an atmosphere of excellence and accountability in our schools and this bill will help do that.”
What grade an individual school earns will be based on the current accreditation labels: fully accredited, accredited with warning in one or more content areas, conditionally accredited or accreditation denied.
“While those ratings have meaning for people in the school system and people in government, it doesn’t provide the clarity for parents,” Gov. Bob McDonnell told reporters during a press conference call last Friday. “We’re transferring them to a simple model everyone will understand.”
McDonnell held the press conference to promote the measure alongside former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who implemented an A-F grading system for his state’s public schools in 1999. Bush credits the report cards with bringing Florida’s public schools from the “bottom of the pack” to above the national average.
“If the grading system is based on student learning, then you’re going to have to improve student learning if you want your grade to go up,” he explained.
McDonnell expects more parents will get involved in their children’s schools if they have a clear way to assess them. And while McDonnell touted Virginia’s public schools as ranked among the best in the country, he said there is room for improvement. “That’s not good enough when we look at the global competition, and, when compared to a lot of the world, we are generally way down on the list in math and reading. We just cannot be satisfied with the status quo.”
Loudoun schools will most likely sit at the top of the class with some of the highest grades among Virginia’s schools. All of Loudoun’s public schools are fully accredited, except for new schools that are conditionally accredited in their first year.
Requests for comment from Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick and Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Sharon Ackerman were not immediately returned.
However, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents released a statement today voicing its opposition to the grading system. The group said school report cards would put a new label on what it called an “unbalanced and out-of-date assessment and accountability system.”
Educators in Virginia, and the rest of the country, are waiting on Congress to revamp the 12-year-old No Child Left Behind law, which mandated annual exams to measure student achievement. The exams are broken down by student demographics and used to assess the schools’ and the school districts’ performance.
Jennifer Parish, superintendent of Poquoson City Schools, said in the VASS’ statement that an A-F grading system may “stifle growing efforts to create a new accountability model that better meets 21st century needs.”
This school year, 99 Virginia schools are labeled “accredited with warning,” and four schools’ accreditation has been denied, according to the Virginia Department of Education.
The bill will now go to the Senate.