February 18, 2013

Letter Grades: A Hallmark Of Childhood

The Springfield News-Leader recently published an article that stated, “It’s a hallmark of childhood — the grade card, hopefully stamped ‘A’ or ‘B’ and not the dreaded ‘F.’ But the ways schools grade their students may soon be the way they are graded themselves.” Legislation has been proposed which would assign each school a letter grade based on the evaluation system currently in place in the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

According to the News-Leader, there are numerous opponents of grading schools, including superintendents, school district personnel, and the Missouri PTA president. In fact, the PTA president states that A–F grading “doesn’t address any problems at all. It’s just another way of identifying the problems that we know are there.”

The fact is, A–F grading does help address problems. The first problem it addresses is transparency. Currently, it is very difficult to see how an individual school is performing in comparison to other schools or a benchmark level of performance. A letter grade will solve this problem in a way that is easy for the average parent to understand.

Assigning letter grades to schools also encourages those schools to improve. The A–F grading system in Florida has been evaluated a number of times and the results show that the stigma of receiving an “F” grade encourages schools to change practices and to improve. Rouse, Hannaway, Goldhaber, and Figlio wrote in a National Bureau of Economic Research paper:

In sum, we find that schools receiving an “F” grade are more likely to focus on low performing students, lengthen the amount of time devoted to instruction, adopt different ways to organize the day and learning environment of the students and teachers, increase resources available to teachers, and decrease principal control, as was expected given the increased oversight built into the A+ Plan.

Assigning A–F grades is not just a way to single out or label low-performing schools. It is a way to motivate schools to improve instructional practice and to strive for excellence.

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