By Murray Siegel
In November, letter grades for Arizona schools were published. Schools going up a grade, such as from B to A, celebrated, while those whose letter score was downgraded, were concerned. The public can certainly ask, “What do these letter grades mean?”
The grades are based on student performance on standardized tests and growth in student ability, yet to truly understand these grades, a sports scenario may prove useful.
Imagine that NFL teams were given a letter grade based on performance. Based on the 2019 regular season, the San Francisco 49ers would have an A and the Cincinnati Bengals would be an F team. What if all the Bengals players were traded to San Francisco and the 49ers players went to play in Cincinnati. The Bengals would probably be an A team. Although coaches can make some difference, the performance of NFL teams is primarily based on their players, and teams can cut players who do not display sufficient motivation.
Letter grades for schools do not measure the teachers or the administration, they measure the students, and, more accurately, the financial status and educational level of the students’ parents. Imagine ABC School had a score of A and DEF School had an F. If the schools swapped all students but kept the faculty and staff, do you believe that ABC would still be an A school?
The bias of scores based on family education and income perpetuates itself. Parents with more education and greater income will look to buy a home where there are schools with top grades, thus maintaining the student performance scores. I think most teachers would tell you if they could “cut” underperforming or disruptive students from their classes, scores would rise.
If we were truly interested in maximizing learning, we would discover a means to motivate students to always make a meaningful effort in the classroom. Students who do well and grow, must be rewarded in a relevant way, and those who do not should face a real consequence. Until then, letter grades for schools are quite useless.
If letter grades have little worth, how can we evaluate a school? One way is to see how students perform four or five years after leaving a school. Also, interviews can be conducted with a random selection of students a few years after graduating, where the survey asks students to reflect on their previous school. This method does not provide immediate results, yet those results would be quite telling.
The careers of administrators and teachers should not be held hostage by uncaring students.
Murray Siegel, Ph.D., has 44 years of experience teaching mathematics. He is a volunteer at Butterfield Elementary School.
This column appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.
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