Monday, November 12

NY Times: Progress report grades "simplistic and counterproductive"

Yesterday, the New York Times went after the progress reports in an editorial titled "Grading the Grades." It said pretty much everything I think (and much of what I said the other day):

The new system "does a valuable service to students, and teachers, by holding schools accountable for both overall performance and for how much progress students make from one year to the next. But Mr. Bloomberg should ditch the simplistic and counterproductive A through F rating system. It boils down the entire shooting match to a single letter grade that does not convey the full weight of this approach and lends itself to tabloid headlines instead of a real look at a school’s problems.
Last week, I heard from a couple of people that I was too generous in my appraisal of the progress report initiative. I don't know that I was. I said basically what the Times said — that the idea is a good one but the execution has big problems — and parent advocates were pleased with the Times editorial. Still, I admit that I am just getting up to speed on the theory and history behind the growth model of evaluating education, which is what the progress reports are based on. But the Times points out that while growth models are currently beloved by education researchers, they expect to see three years' test scores factoring into the computations — and the DOE used only one to judge elementary and middle schools. In their haste to show results (or to push initiatives through before they can be challenged?), the chancellor and mayor have compromised their reforms and created what parent leader David Bloomfield suggests could be considered a "crazy experiment gone bad."

Like Seth and the Times editorial board, I do think there is value to the growth model — as I said, parents should be able to know whether their schools are helping their kids make progress. And I still believe that a high-performing school may not score high on a growth model "improvement index." If a well-designed measure showed that, schools and parents would be more likely to take the news to heart. It seems that an "improvement index" that factors into a school's entire grade, if there must be one, at a much lower weight, would make more sense. I do think a single grade is reductive and distracting and unnecessary. At any rate, I agree with the Times that a "more subtle and flexible" school evaluation system is needed. Given our current leaders' inability to handle even the most reasoned criticism, I'll be pretty surprised if we see that.

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