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Brad Simmons: New A-F grading system fails (Daily Mail)

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Brad Simmons: New A-F grading system fails (Daily Mail)

For years, public schools in West Virginia have been measured objectively and completely by the state Board of Education’s Office of Education Performance Audits.

Audit staff and personnel from peer schools visit and comprehensively evaluate each public school on a four-year schedule. The audit evaluates the school, administration, teachers and support staff on seven comprehensive standards and determines a grade for each: Distinguished, Accomplished, Emerging, or Unsatisfactory. The audit then reviews 22 areas of policy and code to determine whether the school is in compliance with each.

But despite this effort by the auditing office and school peers to objectively evaluate every school in West Virginia, the state Board of Education has succeeded in dragging schools down a misguided path toward A-F grades.

It did so in the face of much opposition from professional educators, elected officials and the general public. Stakeholder groups were overwhelmingly opposed to the plan.

Yet those groups were ignored. Education organizations spoke at public board meetings to express concern for the new grading system and were dismissed out of hand. School grades were made public in mid-November.

Here’s the advice of secondary school principals to parents and community members about your community school’s grade: pay no attention to it. The grade is unreliable, irrelevant and says very little about the quality of your school.

The grade given is primarily a reflection of how students at each school did on a single test. The Board of Education wants you to believe there are diverse measures.

Yet 73 percent of high school grades and 83 percent of middle school grades are dependent upon the test. This might be somewhat more acceptable if it were a quality test. Yet these grades were based on a Common Core test that has been rejected by most state educators. The state Legislature rejected it overwhelmingly with a 127-4 vote in both houses. It is falling out of favor across the country.

The Common Core test does not provide educators and parents the kind of specific data that previous state assessments did on what students do and do not know. The data teachers receive arrives too late for them to start the school year ready to attack education deficits.

Schools had the opportunity to appeal their grade, but that process was hindered by uncertainty as to how growth calculations were arrived upon and how at-risk students were identified.

At one high school, the board approved 19 of 32 appeals, but that resulted in no change to the school’s point total. Another won 32 of 40 appeals with no change in the public grade.

Perhaps most concerning, one school, which would have earned a C, was given an F based on a participation rate policy that was changed after the testing window closed.

The A-F system ignores outside variables beyond the control of schools that impact student achievement. It is possible, if not probable, that low grades will inflict further damage to communities already fighting to overcome those variables. These communities face the possibility of student flight to other schools, decreased property values and difficulty attracting new business.

We ask the board to reconsider its position. Absent that, we ask that our elected officials intervene.

We already have a better assessment and a better system to help our communities achieve success.

In the classroom, students earn grades based on what they do. Yet, their grades are a private matter between the students, their parents and teachers — and teachers do all they can to help the children improve.

Teachers and school administrators take care not to humiliate children who are struggling.

Publicly labeling whole communities of children as failures based on how the group performed on a single assessment is shameful and needs to be reversed.

Brad Simmons is executive director of the West Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals.