In The News

Louisiana Proposes a Smarter Way to Grade Schools

As we’ve written before, there’s no perfect system for rating the quality of schools.  Each family’s needs and values are different, and as a result, they have different priorities.  We see this first-hand at EdNavigator when we sit down with parents to consider their school options

Even so, there are certain priorities that families tend to share.  They want safe, well-rounded schools where everyone believes deeply in the potential of each student.  They want schools that treat parents as valued partners. They want schools where kids feel engaged, make friends and have fun.

Most of all, they want their children to learn.  A good school, in the minds of most parents, accelerates and enriches student learning. That’s the school’s main job. Good schools grow their students, and in the process, they grow a brighter future for all of us.

The Department of Education in Louisiana seems to agree.  In a recent proposal to bring the state into compliance with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), state officials outline a plan to base 25 percent of school and district performance scores on the amount of growth each school achieves for students, regardless of where students began a given school year.

This is a departure from the state’s current system, which is based overwhelmingly on student test passage rates (for example, what percentage of students score above a certain proficiency level). Under this system, schools where more students are scoring higher get better grades.

That might sound like common sense, but it’s actually problematic. Here’s why: Some students start the school year performing extremely well, and they are likely to pass their tests whether the school’s instruction is excellent or not.  Others arrive with significant challenges, and they aren’t likely to receive high test scores in the short term even if the school’s teachers are catching them up at an extraordinarily fast pace.  They might make exceptional progress and still fall below the cut scores.  A school’s grade might tell us more about which students attend the school than what the school is doing.

This approach doesn’t match the way most parents think about schools. It’s why we routinely recalculate the state’s grades for New Orleans-area schools to put greater emphasis on student growth – because that’s what the parents we support really care about.

Thankfully, Louisiana seems serious about fixing this problem. We applaud the Department of Education’s proposal.  In truth, we believe it could go even further than weighting growth at 25 percent.  When we calculated grades for schools in Jefferson and Orleans Parish, we placed more than 50 percent of the weight on growth.  In future years, we hope that the state adopts a similar approach. But for a start, this is a giant step in the right direction and one that ought to be embraced and adopted.