The Education Commission of the States has compiled a graph showing what states are measuring in the way of student data.

One interesting note is that the idea of A-F letter grades for schools started in Florida, the brain-child of Governor Jeb Bush. There are now 14 states that use letter grades. In my view, this is an especially pernicious form of data. Imagine how a parent would feel if their child came home from school with a report card that contained only one grade: A-F. The parent would be outraged and would demand a more expansive description of how their child is doing in school.

In the case of a school, which is an institution with many staff and students, a single letter grade is absurdly reductionist. There are many facets to a school, including its resources, teachers, support staff, curriculum, attendance, persistence rate, availability of physical education, facilities, etc.

Why take all these people and activity and reduce them to a single letter?

I personally saw how nutty this idea was in the form of my neighborhood school in Brooklyn. One year, it was rated A, and the mayor and chancellor came to the school to congratulate the principal and teachers. The school was so successful, they said, that it would be expanded. Then six weeks later, the new report cards were released, and the school was rated F.

I met the principal a few months later and asked him why the school’s grade had dropped so precipitously. He had no idea. Nothing had changed. The staff was the same. The curriculum was the same. It made no sense. Subsequently, the school grade went up to a B or C, and the principal confided that he wanted to keep it that way, hoping no one would pay attention to his school.

Note that the report was funded by the Walton Family Foundation.

Here is the press release:

New ECS database highlights letter grades for schools, trends in state accountability systems

DENVER — More than a dozen states are on track to assign A-F letter grades to schools, among the trends highlighted in a first-of-its-kind database published today by the Education Commission of the States.

The online database shows which indicators states are considering in gauging school performance and how state leaders are publicly reporting on that performance to parents and others.
Letter grades for schools, which have been controversial in some states, appear to be an increasingly popular tool for policymakers. In 2002, only one state — Florida — assigned letter grades to schools.
Among some of the highlights of the analysis:

  • 14 states assign, or have passed legislation to assign, letter grades to schools. Ohio, Texas and Virginia are scheduled to begin letter grading systems in 2014 and 2015.
  • All 50 states and the District of Columbia consider student achievement as measured by test results in their performance indicators.
  • 37 states and D.C. factor in student growth or improvement on tests in deciding school performance. That’s up from 21 in 2002.
  • 44 states and D.C. consider graduation rates in determining school performance while 12 states include dropout rates.
  • 9 states weigh growth of the lowest-performing quartile of students in judging their schools.

Kathy Christie, ECS vice president and co-director of its Information Clearinghouse, said the database marks the first comprehensive look at how states are measuring and reporting school performance. Some data are comparable to previous years, when more limited analysis was completed.
“What we know from reviewing state policy is that the intent of these school accountability systems is to help parents make informed choices for their children,” Christie said. “So it’s important that what’s being measured and reported is an accurate depiction of a school’s progress.”
Support for this project was provided by the Walton Family Foundation. The views expressed are those of ECS, which receives the majority of its funding from the member states it serves.