State Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction say letter grades are OK for students, but not for educators

August 20, 2014

The State Board of Education objects to using letter grades to make the State Board’s Public School Achievement Index understandable. The State Board ranks school performance, placing schools in one of six categories:  Exemplary, Very Good, Good, Fair, Underperforming and Lowest 5 Percent. The State Board complains that school performance is too complex to be summarized with a letter grade, although the Board manages a profession that routinely uses letter grades to summarize the performance of students.  

Letter grades make the complex Index understandable to parents and the public:  Exemplary (A), Very Good (B), Good (C), Fair (D), Underperforming (F), Lowest 5 Percent (F-). 

Brenda Hirschi, President of the Shelton Public School Board, expressed appreciation for clarifying the Index this way: 

“Thank you so much for this email article.  I really appreciate your taking the time to provide this information.  As a school board director I have been confused about what all of this means.  How a parent could figure out the state achievement index chart is beyond me.”

Governor Inslee supports giving schools letter grades: “I am proposing for every school to have a letter grade disseminated to parents so that we can hold ourselves accountable.” (See the 10:16 mark of this video.)

Senator Litzow (R-Mercer Island), a leader in promoting public education, sponsored SB 5328, to report the state School Achievement Index as letter grades:  

“This bill is about creating an easily understood and transparent accountability system that is clear to every parent.... At the end of the day, this is about clarity and transparency for parents. Everyone understands it. What we have now is a murky description which does not define the difference between Good and Very Good, between Fair or Struggling.”

In support of SB 5328 Senator Smith (R-Colville) said: “Labeling schools as a D or an F will provide a great impetus for them to improve.” The state’s powerful education establishment blocked the bill from passing. 

Now the State Board criticizes Washington Policy Center for reporting state data and trying to help parents understand the rating system for schools. Keeping the Index confusing may soothe the feelings of school officials, but it doesn’t help parents understand how well or how poorly their schools are meeting the state’s paramount constitutional duty to educate their children.  In a system where one in four students drop out, parents clearly need more, not less, information about public schools.

I have received calls from parents asking, “What does it mean that my school has been ranked as only Fair on the Index?” They also ask, reasonably, “What can I do about this?” 

Members of the State Board of Education and Randy Dorn, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, say they want school administrators to be accountable and that they want parents and the public to be well informed about how well schools are educating children. Providing letter grades for public schools, an idea that enjoys broad bi-partisan and popular support, is one way to do that.



F schools...

Mercer Island and Bellevue...mostly A schools, Pasco...nearly all F schools. So what exactly is this measuring? Pasco is the fasted growing community in our state (has been for years), cannot build schools fast enough (three new 900 student elementary schools in the next two years), is a place where you can still buy a house for $100,000 and is primarily a low socio economic community with many mono-lingual hispanic students entering their schools. One of their middle schools is the largest one in the state and half...yep, half of the students are in portable classrooms. What this district and their staff do for the students of Pasco is amazing. They are not failing anyone.

So, given the grades, the teachers in Bellevue are much better, more hard working and they are doing a terrific job. The teachers in Pasco are 'failing'...c'mon! They are outstanding and are up against a lot. If you think it is hard being a 7th grade math teacher on Mercer Island, how hard to you think it is in Pasco?

What are these grades really grading? Yep, you know. If you think Pasco School District is failing the children of Pasco you are very wrong. These 'grades' are demeaning of poor, multi-ethnic schools where there are huge socioeconomic and teaching challenges. So let's label Pasco an 'F'...that will motivate their lazy teachers and solve the issue! The rich get richer and the poor, well they do what they always harder and harder. Bravo Pasco School have a lot to be proud of.

letter grades

Your title makes it sound like you want to grade teachers/principals ("educators") but the bulk of the commentary is on schools.

Are you saying you want to grade schools on their test results? Because then, you are "grading" the complete work of every teacher/principal in each school. Is that necessarily fair to each individual? Probably not. (You don't see this for hospitals, for example.)

If you are saying grade the whole school, then you would be using every kind of data - test scores, attendance, discipline rates, school climate surveys (both staff, parents, students), etc.

It would seem if you want parents to have more information, you'd do the latter.

I'm confused. What are you advocating for?

School Grades

I think these grades are awesome! I need to move to Normandy Park, Medina or Alki. I am a teacher and my wife is a police officer. Oh wait, we can't afford to live there! Guess I will have to keep my kids at a failing school in our 'working class' neighborhood. But then again, even though the school is failing, we love it and our kids are getting a great education! The Principal and the teachers, all the staff, are dedicated and work so hard. Too bad they are failing.