Educators feel that new system misses mark

Area superintendents voice opposition to A-F school report card

By Kim Walter

A part of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s education reform initiative that would give schools a letter grade of A-F has been passed by the General Assembly, but local superintendents don’t seem to think the method is a step in the right direction.

According to the legislation, the state Board of Education must report school performance using a grading system in addition to the standards of accreditation. The system should be based on both state and federal accountability requirements, and should include student growth in assigning grades.

The board will need to develop such a grading system by October 1, 2015, and make that system and grades assigned to each school in the state available to the general public.

As the legislation currently reads, the grade of an A means “a school received a rating of fully accredited, scored a 25 percent or higher advanced proficiency pass rate on state assessments in each content area … and meet all federal annual measurable objectives.”

Getting a B would mean not all annual measurable objectives were met and a C would indicate that a school received a rating of accredited with a warning in one content area.

If an accredited school received warnings in more than one content area, received a rating of provisionally accredited or is a priority school that was not denied accreditation, that school would be graded as a D school.

The grade of an F would mean a school was denied accreditation.

With that criteria in place, the Virginia Municipal League released a preliminary report card for all public schools in the state.

In Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren counties, all schools would either get an A or a B, except for Frederick County Middle School, which would receive a C.

According to superintendents from those three divisions, the grading system hardly makes it easier for parents to get a good idea of a school’s overall success.

David Sovine, superintendent for Frederick County Public Schools, said he supports school accountability, but not the A-F school report card system, calling it “redundant since Virginia already has school division report cards and accreditation standards.”

“Although the A-F system was proposed as a way to simplify school accountability, I believe it will prove to be more confusing for the general public,” he said in a statement Friday. “For example, a school could be fully accredited and yet earn a “C” rating.”

All the school officials expressed the thought that much more goes into rating a school than just accreditation. Superintendent of Shenandoah County Public Schools, B. Keith Rowland, said the system isn’t a fair representation of a school.

“When a family moves to an area, they always want to know how the schools are,” he said Friday. “Now, would you want your kids going to an A school or a B school?”

Rowland said the blanket grade doesn’t fully quantify all aspects of education, like extracurricular activities, volunteerism and athletic teams.

Another issue with the grading, according to Rowland, is that there’s no break when it comes to subgroups of students in a school.

“We serve every population and we have two of the largest elementary schools in the state,” he said.

He said he thinks the system is also a discredit to parents, as he finds it hard to believe that they only look at a school based on the criteria set forth by the legislation.

“There’s just more to a school being successful than this picture is painting,” he said.

Sovine agreed, and said any rating system used for schools must be accurate, but not overly simplified. Ultimately, he doesn’t see the grades benefiting students or enhancing school improvement.

Pamela McInnis, superintendent for Warren County Public Schools, has voiced opposition against the A-F report cards since before its passage. She said the county will work through it as best as possible, but she said she still feels a grade is too simplified.

She said she fears that if a parent sees a low grade, that parent won’t continue looking into a school. However, as superintendent, she wants to sit down and meet with those looking to move to the area so they can get a real sense of a division and its schools.

“Also, if parents don’t know or understand the criteria behind this, how can it be helpful?” she asked. “We all have a perception of what an A means … no matter what we’re grading.”

McInnis said the criteria and grading system are still confusing, and details and explanation are still necessary to move forward.

If the governor signs the legislation into law, updated preliminary grades will start being assigned this October.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com