Girls going to school
Susan Pendergrass

After years of positive reforms that seek to improve one of the lowest performing school systems in the nation, New Mexico’s newly elected leadership has decided to turn back the clock. Letter grades that were easy for parents to understand will be replaced with “text labels” that aren’t. Schools will now be rated as Targeted Support School, Comprehensive Support School, More Rigorous Intervention School, New Mexico Spotlight School, and Traditional Support School. Guess which one’s best? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? The answer is New Mexico Spotlight School—because that makes so much sense to parents.

And guess who also eschews letter grades for schools? Missouri. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) recently released the list of Targeted Schools (pretty bad) and Comprehensive Schools (the worst of the worst). Seemingly, this is to be compliant with the federal law to release the list of the lowest five percent of schools in the state in terms of performance, although neither list quite matched that mandate in numbers.

As I converted the PDF lists of Targeted and Comprehensive Schools to an Excel file that I could use (meaning merged with performance and demographic data), I kept having to remind myself which list had 64 schools and which had 323. Targeted and Comprehensive don’t carry much meaning to me. At least these 387 schools got some sort of label. The other 2,200 or so purposefully aren’t “labeled.” Rather, they get a score between 0 and 100 that reflects the number of possible points that a school received (with tons of extra credit points available) divided by their possible points. Parents in the state have been trained to look for the number 70, because that’s the threshold for accreditation.

So, which Missouri schools are doing well and which are doing poorly? Maybe ask your neighbor or the parents on the sideline at this weekend’s soccer game. They probably have some sense of what “most” people think are the “good” schools and which ones to avoid. They may be right, they may be wrong. I don’t recommend turning to DESE to figure it out.   


About the Author

Susan Pendergrass
Director of Research and Education Policy

Susan Pendergrass was Vice President of Research and Evaluation for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools before joining the Show-Me Institute. Prior to coming to the National Alliance, Susan was a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education during the Bush administration and a senior research scientist at the National Center for Education Statistics during the Obama administration. She earned a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Mason University.