Martin: Grades good for kids, not for schools

The News & Observer reports that the Democratic majority on the Wake County Board of Education does not like a number of the education reforms passed by the General Assembly last year.  For example, the Excellent Public Schools Act directs the NC Department of Public Instruction to assign a letter grade to each school based on a number of metrics, including student performance data. N&O education reporter Keung Hui writes,

[School board member Dr. Jim] Martin called the grading system an attempt to subject schools to public ridicule. He suggested Wake issue multiple grades for each school.

“Our intent is not public humiliation,” Martin said. “The grading, I think, is a bad idea, but we have to work with it. Anyone who gives grades knows we don’t just give one grade.”

I am pretty sure that Martin, a chemistry professor at NC State, gives his students just one grade at the end of the semester.  I suspect that Dr. Martin uses all graded exams and assignments completed during the semester to determine his students’ final grades.  Similarly, the letter grades assigned to schools will take several metrics into account, including multiple test score averages and measures of growth (i.e., value-added).

As for his public humiliation and ridicule argument, that’s just hyperbole.  The state already publishes “report cards” for every school and district in the state. Each report card details the performance of a school compared to district and state averages in areas ranging from class size to teacher turnover.  I do not recall hearing similar complaints about the NC School Report Cards website, which has been around since 2001.

Moreover, the Department of Public Instruction assigns designations to schools based on performance and growth, e.g., Priority School, School of Progress, School of Distinction, etc.  The difference is that North Carolinians understand letter grades.  Few understand the designations.  Indeed, parents who send their child to a “Priority School” will respond differently when they learn that the school earned a “D” grade.  The labels have an equivalent meaning, but the letter grade communicates that meaning in an intelligible way.

I give Martin’s argument a D-.

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