Everybody wants a shiny A on the report card, but the goal of then-Gov. Bobby Jindal when he pushed letter grades for public schools was to make clear to the public whether a school was doing well or not.
Well, not every school can be an A campus, nor can every system get an A. In the fictional Lake Wobegon, all the children were above-average, but in real life, the letter grades cannot provide that affirmation to principals and superintendents.
Yet what is the important goal of the letter grades? Clarity is good, but parents and teachers should keep them in perspective: They are just one part of a much more elaborate system of school performance scores. The scores are based on whether a school is providing a solid academic foundation for the student, and the bar should be raised over time.
Now that long-promised commitment to improvement has happened, with a series of gradual changes to make the standards for school performance scores tougher. Given that reality, it’s not surprising that some schools have not done as well as in the past.
The first report cards since standards were strengthened means fewer top-rated schools and more with lower grades. Only 13 percent of schools earned A ratings compared to 20 percent under the old scoring system; F-rated schools rose from 8 percent to 12 percent.
What is important is that the academic standards rise.
In releasing the new scores, state Superintendent of Education John White said that there hasn’t been that dramatic a difference; the overall distribution of grades is roughly the same as 2017.
Still, parents have a right to worry if their child is going to a D or F-rated school, even if the school’s score reflects a higher expectation for academics.
Schools should get credit for improvements in student performance. Nevertheless, D- and F-rated schools clearly have much more work to do. Officials in charge of nearly 40 percent of Louisiana schools will be asked, in compliance with the state’s pledge under federal law, to develop plans for how to help lower-scoring schools improve.
The goal of a rating system is not to generate numbers, but to use the numbers to drive reform. A classroom with an effective teacher is always going to do better, and principals’ interventions and mentoring by other teachers are one part of the formula.
Under federal law, some of the changes might involve improvements focused on specific groups of students, such as those learning English as a second language.
But as Jindal intended, ultimately the complexity of the challenge should result in school improvements that parents and taxpayers can see reflected in the letter grades for schools.