Swirling around the edges of K-12 education is a multi-billion dollar services industry that sells products to support our schools. Most of these products are programs designed to improve student achievement and each one of these comes with slick advertising that claims superiority when compared to other like programs. While the advertising is fair, the science behind the claims often depends on a causal relationship that may or may not be fully understood. It is with this in mind that I view current legislation that proposes to give schools a letter grade of A to F. A is for a school making excellent progress while an F is for a school failing to make adequate progress. If adopted, the grade designation will be in addition to the state’s current star rating. The criteria to determine the star rating varies depending on whether the school is an elementary or secondary school and uses more than one data point. The letter grade could have a single data point that I assume will be based on the state’s annual assessment.
While it may be easy to assume a causal relationship between three days of testing in April and school quality, we all know that such a determination is not so simple. The variables that affect school quality are complicated and in many cases external to the school. I applaud the cry to have schools show progress, to be accountable for their use of public money. I am saddened however, that a school could receive a one star rating and then be labeled an “F school.” Such a demoralizing set of labels would likely incite despair and not the intended motivation to improve. There is nothing wrong with expecting schools to improve. I feel there is something terribly wrong with shaming a school into doing so. The causal relationship between one variable and school quality just doesn’t exist.