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Accountability has long been an area challenged by many. The chief complaint being that it is largely based on the performance of one single end of year assessment. Additional challenges include the fact there there is so much more work schools do to provide the best environment and school culture students need to thrive. Scott Marion, Center for Assessment recently expressed and explained that accountability systems must offer more than school grades. The full article is powerful and a worthy read, but here’s the gist of it:

The goal and the problem

  • One of the goals of school accountability systems is to communicate important information about school quality to education stakeholders, especially parents and community members.
  • State leaders have been using grades for schools for many years in hopes of effectively and transparently communicating school-quality information to the public. 
  • School grades obscure more meaning than they convey and carry significant unintended negative consequences.
  • A commonly cited reason for using school grades is that parents and other stakeholders understand them, yet a great deal of uncertainty remains around what constitutes a fair A, B, C, etc.

Ways to Meet Federal Accountability

  • School grades are not the only way to meet federal accountability fequirements.
  • All school accountability systems designed to meet the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) include academic achievement, another academic indicator (almost always student longitudinal growth), English language proficiency, an indicator of school quality and student success, and graduation rate (for high schools). 
  • Most states combine the various indicators to arrive at an overall determination for each school each year.
  • People focus on the grade and add their own interpretations of what’s important.
  • School grades are often defined by an arbitrary number or percentage of points, such as 90 percent of possible points being the cutoff for an “A” rating. 
  • Except it doesn’t work because there are too many misconceptions about student grading scales.

Improving the system

  • State accountability systems are in place to meet legislative mandates.
  • They assign school grades that are defensible and hopefully meaningful. 
  • Using a standard-setting approach is a marked improvement over the grading approaches most states use.
  • Concerns remain that grades or other overall school designations, such as stars, hide more information than they reveal. 
  • It is critical that accountability systems also support school improvement efforts.
  • We need a system that provides information that’s detailed and meaningful enough to help leaders understand what they should focus on to make their schools better.
  • Leaders and educators need actionable information without limited and vague information school grades provide.

Rethinking the Function of Grading Systems

  • Grades may be intuitively appealing, but they are fraught with many problems that can get in the way of school improvement and stakeholder communication.
  • Grades offer the hope of simplicity and transparency, but we are obligated to provide an accurate and useful depiction of school quality.


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