State approves A-F school grading scale for schools

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Local educators concerned that new system is too simplistic

By Staff Reports

RICHMOND — Most of the state’s schools would earn an A or B letter grade based on preliminary data used to establish a new grading formula approved last Thursday by the Board of Education.

The A through F grading scale will assign to schools a letter grade based largely on state standardized test scores. The system, developed in response to legislation the General Assembly passed earlier this year, will debut in October 2014. The letter grades will complement state accreditation and federal accountability rating systems.
The board delayed a vote on the matter last month in an effort to allow more time for public comment and in response to school divisions’ concerns about the impact of the scores on English language learners. But, it wanted to move forward in approving the scale so schools would know in advance what they’re being graded on.
School leaders and educational groups across the state have criticized the law, and lobbied the board for more time to study the scale.
Schools superintendents from all over Virginia, including those from the Twin Counties, learned of the particulars of the grading scale at the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) conference in Williamsburg on Nov. 21.

Local Reaction
“We are very concerned about assigning a single letter grade to a school,” Carroll Schools Superintendent Strader Blankenship said in a message to The Gazette.
“There are so many things that are related to being a good or excellent school. Do we give students a single letter grade for 3rd, 5th, 8th, or 11th grade?
“No. We use multiple grades to reflect the various content and or behaviors.”
Both the VSBA and Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS) “would like to see multiple measures and grades used to reflect the different areas and criteria for which schools are accountable,” Blankenship said. “Educators, schools, and school divisions are not afraid of accountability. We are in favor of logical and fair accountability.”
Galax Superintendent Bill Sturgill spoke with The Gazette on Friday after spending several days at the VSBA meeting. “The information that we received from that meeting was that the VSBA and the VASS are planning to lobby against the bill, with the hopes of delaying its implementation for the next three years,” he said.
At this point, there is no way to predict what grades Galax schools would receive if the bill does move forward, since the grades would be based on the test scores received at the end of this school year.
“We are in a waiting period, and we just have to see what happens with the lobbying efforts and with our test scores,” Sturgill said.
Grayson County Schools Superintendent Kevin Chalfant could not be reached for comment by press time on Friday.
Steven Staples, chairman of the Virginia Education Coalition and executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, spoke at the board of education meeting, saying educators haven’t been able to calculate the formula’s impact on the schools.
“Folks are still trying to figure out what those unintended consequences might be,” he said.
Some school leaders in Virginia have called the grading requirement unnecessary and said it doesn’t fully reflect a school’s efforts, challenges or achievements.
For example, Suffolk School Board member Judith Brooks-Buck said the measure hasn’t been well thought-out and could potentially damage schools’ reputations and communities’ economies. “Families do not plan moves into communities where schools appear to be failing,” she said.
Based on the scale approved Thursday, elementary and middle schools could earn up to 800 points, and those schools scoring 650 points or more could earn an A.
High schools could earn up to 1,200 points, and those schools with 875 points or more could earn an A.
Schools are awarded base points for each percentage of students who pass state tests and for year-to-year progress on those tests. They also can earn bonus points for high scores, among other things. A few overriding rules also can affect the grades. For example, most schools that are not fully accredited cannot earn an A or B.
Board of education members wrestled with approving the scale, lamenting the lack of communication between lawmakers who established the grading requirement. They plan to review the grading scale annually and make adjustments as needed.

How the Grading System Works
Gov. Bob McDonnell proposed an A-F school grading system as part of his 2013 education agenda. The 2013 General Assembly subsequently approved bills directing the state Board of Education to create an A-F scale based on performance, state and federal accountability standards and student growth indicators.
In a news release on Thursday, the governor said the grading system “relies on criteria that will capture a school’s overall performance and growth, college and career readiness and the success of schools in raising achievement of their lowest-performing students.
“The new grading system will better enable us to track school performance and improve education for all Virginia students by utilizing an easy to understand and familiar format.”
In implementing the legislation, Secretary of Education Javaid Siddiqi said the board of education “struck what I believe is an appropriate balance between maintaining high expectations for all children and recognizing the successes of schools that serve students who face significant challenges.”
Under the system adopted by the state board, 50 percent of the grade of an elementary or middle school will be based on overall proficiency in English, mathematics, science and history/social science; 25 percent on overall growth in English and mathematics; and 25 percent on growth in English and mathematics among the school’s lowest-performing students.
Elementary and middle schools also can earn a capped number of bonus points based on the percentage of students earning advanced scores on Standards of Learning (SOL) tests in the four core content areas and for meeting all federal accountability benchmarks.
For high schools, 33 percent of the grade will be based on overall proficiency in English, mathematics, science and history/social science; 25 percent will be based on indicators of college and career readiness, such as graduation rates, college credits earned and completion of advanced career and technical education (CTE) programs; eight percent will be based on participation in dual-credit courses and board-approved CTE assessments; 17 percent will be based on growth toward college and career readiness; and 17 percent will be based on growth toward college and career readiness among students at risk of not graduating.
High schools also can earn a capped number of bonus points based on advanced performance on SOL assessments and for meeting all federal accountability goals.