Complicit in the Façade of Accountability
I am incredulous at this quote from today’s editorial in the Oklahoman: “We suspect critics gripe about the A-F system not because it’s complicated, but because it is so simple.” It seems someone was absent when the subtle difference between simple and simplistic was covered in school.
Yes, the output from all of the data used to generate A-F report cards is simple – especially if you’re a fan of things that don’t require you to think. If you enjoy tasks on the lower end of Bloom’s Taxonomy, this is the perfect accountability system for you. If you want to understand how a particular school is really doing, you’ll find the results less than informative, however.
Here’s an overview of misleading statements (in italics) from the editorial:
- Some officials complain errors have been identified, but don’t mention that the schools provided all the data used by the state Department of Education to calculate grades. If errors exist, the schools are largely responsible. – Schools provided some data points (such as attendance rates and spreadsheets showing the percentage of high school students taking advanced coursework. All of the test results were provided to the SDE by Pearson, the testing company. This is the vast majority of data used in calculating A-F grades. Only after the SDE verifies the scores do they go into report card calculations.
- For the most part, the information districts submit for the new A-F grading system differs little from that provided under the old Academic Performance Index, the previous rating system. – Again, this is not even close. Under API, accountability results were 90 percent based on test scores. Under A-F, it’s 67 percent. Under API, attendance mattered, as it does under A-F. Metrics for AP, ACT, and SAT scores were not included however. Nor were calculations for AP enrollment (other than whether the courses were offered or not), concurrent enrollment, and Career Tech enrollment.
- There’s no reason for officials to complain about having the opportunity to correct mistakes they made in a review period lasting twice as long as before. – While the review period is technically twice as long, the SDE had to hit the reset button midway when it came to their attention they had used the wrong formula in some cases. School officials are actually complaining about having to correct mistakes made by the SDE.
- When school grades are released in October, they will increase public awareness while also helping districts identify and address deficiencies. – The fallacy of this is that they will give interested parties a disembodied letter grade on a report scant on details. For example, nowhere will the report state what percentage of students passed the Algebra I EOI or how many of those passing scored in the Advanced range. Those details are obscured behind a fairly complex formula.
- Everyone knows the difference between an A and an F. – On some level this is true, but even student letter grades are poor communicators of information. They measure compliance as much as they do academic performance.
- Fortunately, most school leaders are embracing the challenge of higher expectations by working to improve student outcomes, not channeling Bart Simpson to explain away forthcoming grades. – This line made me happy (because we can all enjoy a good reference to The Simpsons from time to time). It’s as if the writer remembered at the last minute to say something nice in order to continue the ruse of supporting public education. Yes, most school leaders embrace high expectations. This has long been true. And yes, student outcomes are important. Educators focus quite intently on them.
This reticence about A-F report cards has nothing to do with preserving the status quo or rejecting rigor. Rather it stems from the understanding that any highly-functioning accountability system requires accuracy on the part of the testing company, the schools, and the SDE. It also requires an ability to assimilate meaningful data in a useful way. In the mind of many school leaders, these standards have not been met.
And that is the message they will be sharing with their patrons.