Students around the country are nearing the midpoint of the school year and will be receiving report cards documenting their achievement to date. But students aren’t the only ones receiving report cards this time of year. States and districts have been receiving A through F grades based as well. January has brought a flurry of report cards with Education Week, The Brookings Institute, and StudentsFirst all releasing report cards on our public schools with dramatically different results.
If you live in Massachusetts you’re schools would receive the honor of valedictorian according to Education Week’s report card by earning a B in student achievement. On the other hand, StudentsFirst’s report card indicates that your schools are in need of remediation by earning a D-plus. Conversely, Louisiana would take valedictorian honors according to StudentsFirst’s report card while Education Week’s report card shows Louisiana school barely passing by earning a D-minus.
So if you live in Massachusetts or Louisiana are your schools honors or remedial schools? It depends. Each of these report cards grades states on very different sets of criteria. These criteria are based on the priorities and opinions of the organizations that developed the report cards. Meaning, the report cards are an evaluation of how well states and districts have met the standards that each organization advocates, not an evaluation of the actual effectiveness of their schools, which is like receiving a grade on a test based on how you studied instead of how well you actually performed.
Keep this in mind when other report cards are released. Knowing what is actually being graded can go a long way to more accurately evaluate the quality of the schools in your state or district. For example Education Week grades states based on their student achievement but doesn’t fully account for differences in student demographics. StudentsFirst grades states based solely on policies that organization advocates and doesn’t include measures of student outcomes. The Brookings Institute grades large districts in a similar manner by grading the districts primarily on policies they believe increases school choice and competition but does include a measure of student outcomes.
Of course, these are not the only report cards that grade our public schools but they represent the fact that the grades are based on whether schools are doing what the organization wants our schools to do and not on the actually effectiveness of our schools which a report card should really represent. –Jim Hull