How Should We Measure School Performance?
The superintendent and the Accountability Commission have recommended that student growth count for 25% of the school performance score for K-8 schools and 12.5% for high schools. Nine education and business groups criticized this recommendation, saying it would over-emphasize student progress and could mislead parents and the public about a school’s performance. In a guest column in the Advocate, Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute disagreed with their assessment, saying academic growth is actually a more accurate reflection of teacher and school performance.
Why the debate?
If we are using the letter grade to judge the performance of the adults in the building or to motivate adults to change their behavior, growth is the better measure. How strong was the teaching? How much did students learn year over year? However, teachers are also motivated by the absolute status: Are students prepared to be successful in the next grade level?
If we are using letter grades to communicate to parents the quality of a school, then both status and growth matter. Parents want to know how well students in a school are performing in absolute terms, and they also want to know how much a school is contributing to their student’s growth over time.
If we are using letter grades to communicate to the general public the performance of the school, then status is the most important: How well did students do on the tests? Are they college and career ready?
How do other states balance status versus growth?
In fact, 32 states currently include student growth in their K-8 accountability systems, ranging from 20% to 75%, with an average weight of 40%.
Why are so many states including growth?
At Apple Elementary, the teachers are exceptional and their students are learning the equivalent of 1.5 years of instruction during the school year (think effect size or value added). However, if the school is judged using the status model – how students performed on the day of testing – Apple will likely earn a D or F, no matter how exceptional the teaching, for their students entered school so far behind.
Giving Apple a D or F letter grade does not reflect the high quality of teaching at the school. On the other hand, if Apple Elementary were judged only on growth, it would likely have an A, which would not accurately reflect that most students in the school are performing below grade level.
So, what grade should Apple Elementary get?
How should we measure school performance?
At a minimum, the new accountability model should include 25% for growth (if not more), but there should be transparency in how this information is reported to families and the public. By law, the Department of Education can only issue one letter grade for each school, but the Department also issues annual School Report Cards for every school. These report cards provide much more detailed information about a school and its performance.
Updating the School Report Cards to include separate grades for the student growth component and the status component would be an excellent way to maintain transparency and give parents the information they need to make informed choices.