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Much Ado About Accountability

August 19, 2012

Any frequent visitor to this blog knows that I’m not a fan of A-F Report Cards. It’s not that I don’t want school districts to be accountable; rather I don’t think the new system increases understanding of a school’s performance. They are simplistic more than simplified. They take large quantities of student and school outputs and distill them down to a single letter. Lost is an understanding of how the school gets to that ranking.

This week, school districts received guidance in advance of the release of initial A-F Report Card data. The sample letter the SDE has provided in the packet to introduce the new report cards to parents includes the following paragraph:

Perhaps more importantly, this new report card provides more straightforward information than performance ranking systems used in the past that were confusing and cumbersome for the average parent or community member to understand.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I never found the difference between a school with a 1200 API score and a school with a 800 API score that hard to understand. I guess that means I’m above average (said quite proudly).

I included the fourteen page guidance from the SDE in the link above so you can see for yourself how the sample report cards will look. They won’t go live until October. Schools will receive embargoed preliminary data later this month and have an appeals period before the final report cards are released.

The A-F Report Cards also made an appearance in Superintendent Barresi’s weekly newspaper column. It echoes a similar refrain:

While the intention of releasing these report cards is not to point fingers at anyone, it is an opportunity that will allow parents, citizens and all stakeholders to determine how a school is performing without having to interpret complicated information. The report cards will also be an important piece of information parents can use when deciding the best educational options for their own children.

In other words, parents aren’t capable of understanding complicated information. That seems contradictory to the claims by strident School Choice proponent Rep. Jason Nelson, who takes great offense to suggestions that parents don’t know what’s best for their kids.

As for the accountability part, the important thing to remember is that there are no tangible rewards (a certificate and photo op don’t count) attached to schools that get an A, and the penalties for low-performing schools aren’t tremendously different than they were under the previous accountability system.

These reforms help politicians far more than they help parents. The simplistic labels make for good talking points as they try to increase public support for vouchers and charters. Maybe that’s what Barresi means by average.

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  1. August 22, 2012 at 9:36 pm
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