Lawmakers in Wisconsin, Washington and Virginia want to assign letter grades to K-12 schools

January 31, 2013

Ben Velderman Ben Velderman

Ben is a communications specialist for EAG and joined in 2010. He is a former member of the Michigan Education Association.
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RICHMOND, Va. – The idea of assigning A to F letter grades to individual schools isn’t a new one, but it’s gaining traction in a number of states.

ABCDLawmakers in Virginia, Wisconsin and Washington State want state education officials to begin assigning letter grades (A, B, C, D or F) for K-12 schools in order to help parents understand how well their child’s school is performing.

Issuing easy-to-read school report cards for parents is a practice that’s already being used in Florida, Indiana, Oklahoma, Arizona and Ohio. While the details vary from state-to-state, a school’s letter grade is generally determined by a combination of student test scores and graduation rates.

Of the three states considering the new school report card system, Virginia appears closest to passing it into law.

On Wednesday, a House of Delegates committee “voted 14-6 to send to the House floor a bill directing the state Board of Education to develop a system of grading public schools on an A to F scale, a bill backed by Gov. Bob McDonnell,” reports the Washington Post.

A similar bill has been proposed in Washington State.

State Sen. Steve Litzow, a Republican, said he drafted the bill in order to give parents “a simple and understandable” way of determining whether or not their child’s school is meeting expectations.

“We grade our kids this way,” Litzow said, according to KOMONews.com. “Everybody understands A to F. That’s the whole point.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is expected to push for a letter grading system for schools when he unveils his legislative agenda in late February.

In an exclusive EAGnews video, Walker explains why a streamlined grading system makes sense for Wisconsin families.

“ … I think the most empowering thing to improve schools is if you give parents the knowledge of how schools are competitively,” Walker said.

“If this is really about competition and improving things, the best way to be competitive is for parents to have access to what’s really happening in each of the schools. The more objective data they have about which schools are succeeding and which schools are not, the better of they’re going to be about making choices for their sons and daughters,” Walker said.

If Walker proposes a letter grade system for rating schools, it stands a good chance of passing. Reform-minded Republicans control the state legislature and would seemingly be eager to help implement such a system.

Voters appear to be on board, too. A recent EAGnews poll found that 80 percent of likely Wisconsin voters support the idea of having the state assign traditional letter grades (A, B, C, D, F) to schools, based on their academic performance.

The nation’s teacher unions are strongly opposed to the new report cards, primarily because it makes a school’s performance very accessible to parents and taxpayers.

Teacher union leaders and public school apologists don’t want to see schools graded at all. Since that’s an unrealistic option in this era of reform, union leaders and activists prefer vague, hard-to-understand ratings and statistics that conceal a school’s true performance.

For example, Virginia currently rates its schools with foggy terms, such as “accredited” or “accredited with warning.”

Those terms mean nothing to those outside the education profession. But if they were translated into letter grades, parents would understand their school’s condition and would be more likely to get involved in the process of improving public education.

Union supporters claim assigning letter grades to schools is unfair because schools serve different communities and student populations. They argue that giving a struggling school a D or an F is counterproductive.

“There is a stigma associated with that, but there is no asterisk saying we aren’t comparing apples to apples,” Virginia Delegate Jennifer McClellan told the Washington Post.

But as one Virginia lawmaker pointed out, the state is already making such judgments and the letter grade bill would just change the terminology, the Post reports.

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