Preparing for A-F grading system

Headshot of Commissioner Stephen Bowen

During his State of the State address in February, Governor LePage announced that Maine will introduce a school performance grading system to simplify for parents, taxpayers and others how their schools are doing. Many of you have expressed interest in and concern about how we will generate the grades, and what we will do to support schools that receive low grades.

We’re getting ready to roll out this A-F grading system at the end of the month, and in the coming days we’ll be providing schools with a preview of their data so that they can ask questions and be prepared to speak with their communities about it.

The fears are understandable. No one score or grade tells the whole story of a school. That’s why our grading system will be based on several factors, including student achievement, growth in achievement, and the performance and growth of the bottom 25 percent of students – to ensure that we are looking at all students. In high school, we’ll also factor in the graduation rate.

What we find now is that we have lots of pieces of data that come out throughout the course of the year, including NECAP test scores, science test scores, SAT scores, federal AYP status, AP participation, graduation rates and more. Each of these tells a different, sometimes inconsistent, story. And for each one, unfortunately, there are those who judge a school entirely on that one piece of data.

The goal of A-F grading is to give a starting point, a basic understanding of how a school is doing. When we talk about “priority” and “struggling” or “one-star” and “four-star” schools, it does not really give parents an understanding. For better and worse, A-F is clear. From that point, we hope people will dig deeper. We’ll be unveiling our Data Warehouse, with detailed info about each school, at the same time we make the A-F grades public. We hope people will use both – the letter grade overview, and the details that come with digging into the Data Warehouse.

In addition to sharing your data with you early – and it will all look familiar, it’s public data we’ve released as it came in – we will be holding webinars for superintendents at which we will explain the grading system, and we will tell you what our plan is, what we are going to say, and give you some tools for sharing the information with your communities.

We also have plans to support schools that are struggling. Until now, we’ve only been able to provide that kind of support for Title I schools, because of restriction on federal improvement funds. If the Legislature passes the provision in Governor LePage’s budget to include money for school improvement and support, we’ll pass the vast majority of that on to schools that are underperforming and use the rest to direct technical assistance to those districts.

I know you will all have tons of questions. We’ll be working feverishly over the next few weeks to develop comprehensive materials to support the rollout and support you and your schools.

15 responses to “Preparing for A-F grading system

  1. If a child attends an F or D school he may become discouraged and want to quit school. The emotional content is just as important as the course of study. Children should be reminded of how good they can be.

  2. This kind of assessment–that of a status model–does little to help the state of education and much to damage it. Alfie Kohn summarizes many of the dangerous effects of grades in “The Case Against Grades”:
    * Grades tend to diminish students’ interest in whatever they’re learning.
    * Grades create a preference for the easiest possible task.
    * Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking.

    If the DOE wants to see an improvement in school efficacy, you should instead implement a meaningful assessment using the growth model. This would entail self-assessment by, reflection on, and dialogue between the schools and the DOE. It would take much more resources than crunching numbers to spit out a single grade, some at the DOE level (who’s going to spend the time conversing with individual schools and writing the narratives?) and much at the school level (taking time to reflect on their own practices and hold dialogue with themselves and the DOE). Neither of these occur often enough currently to develop a state-wide assessment system.

    As Richard Stiggins wrote for Phi Delta Kappan in his 2002 article “The Absence of Assessment FOR Learning”: “Both assessment of learning and assessment for learning are essential. One is in place; the other is not.” By virtue of the proposed A-F grading of schools, the DOE is perpetuating more of the same degrading assessments that have been used in education for the last 200 years. Instead, you should be focusing on meaningful assessment that promotes growth.

  3. Paul Theriault

    I can appreciate that the DOE will look at ” lots of pieces of data” that includes student achievement and growth in achievement. The irony is that at the high school level the data comes from the SAT. The SAT is an aptitude test not an achievement test. And furthermore it cannot show growth because it is given once during the students’ 3rd year in high school.

  4. Charlie Maddaus

    The DOE is embracing a Standards-based high school diploma, yet grading schools on the old A-F scale. Why not rate schools on a defined set of standards?

  5. It might be interesting to have the educators and local property taxpayers of the state provide a rating to the Governor, the Maine Legislature, and the Commissioner on their overall performance on policy making, school funding, and support. It seems rather bizarre and extremely hypocritical to me that the letter grade system is being put in place at the same time the Governor is proposing an historic shift of responsibility to local property taxpayers for funding schools.

  6. “When we talk about “priority” and “struggling” or “one-star” and “four-star” schools, it does not really give parents an understanding. For better and worse, A-F is clear.”

    That is what the parents in our district have been saying as they struggle to understand the proficiency-based grading of 1-4 that has been implemented, something that I believe has been encouraged by the DOE. Funny that proficiency-based grading is good enough for the school districts, but not s sufficient expression of assessment for the DOE and the governor. Where is the consistency in your message?

  7. Robert Webster

    Any way you look at it, this is a “shame and blame” approach. Is publication of a list of “loser” schools that much different from the sex offender registry? Our New England ancestors put people in the stocks on the village green for the same purpose. Public humiliation. Will teachers, support personnel and administrators in “F”, “D” and “C”rated schools work harder and get their students to become more motivated in response to a failing school grade? Unlikely. Too bad Commissioner Bowen is stuck with this oversimplified “political” response to a problem as old as time.

  8. Almost any ranking system is simply shorthand for a broader set of parameters; most of us understand both the larger process and the shorthand relatively well. Therefore, if an A – F system is appropriate for grading schools (assuming we know and agree upon the standards by which they are being ranked), it is difficult to understand how it is not similarly appropriate for grading students in this day of “proficiency-based” education.

  9. Who is the “we” you are writing about? What about “us”? Where did this grading of schools plan come from? Was it a “shoot from the hip” comment during the State of the State speech given by Governor LePage? Was this idea produced and vetted by various educators? What other states do this? How has it worked?

    Grading on a “A-F” scale never ever worked in education. Would you agree to be operated on by a surgeon who received a “C” or less on his medical exam? All students should be skill tested on performance. This performance is not based on standardized testing. School performance should also not be based on standardized testing.

    What happened to the support the DOE was giving to “Mass Customized Learning”? It certainly is far removed from this “A-F” program for schools.

    • Mr. Beckett – Maybe I’m alone in this, but I have never asked a doctor how s/he did in medical school; I assume that there’s a bell curve of grades there just as there was in law school when I graduated (at about a B level).

      My point in the post, however, was this: if the Governor and Department of Education are satisfied with an A-F grading system for schools, they should not be opposed to one for students.

  10. It sounds as if we are creating a “Mini No Child Left Behind.” Without changing pre-service teacher training and the present teaching culture, we will be right where we started. The system has to adapt to student needs in the context of current graduation requirements and educators have to respond to these needs for every student, not just the ‘ordained’ students. CTE programs have been the ‘poor’ cousin of the academic programs forever. When you read the book, ‘The Neglected Majority,’ published in the 90′s, you will begin to understand our present classroom situation. The Common Core is a repeat of Instructional Development Institutes of the 70′s, where classroom instruction was supposed to have been geared toward every student’s needs. In Gov. Curtis’ time, the higher ed system was to become seamless-here we are 30+ years later with little change. Until adults recognize the need for a concerted effort to manage training and curriculum to meet student needs from K-14/16, we will not move very far forward. Not every student needs a four year education. Our present K-12 system puts a premium on a four year college education. By meeting the needs of students, those who reject this four year college notion will go on to some form of higher education and will be successful in their chosen field.

  11. I agree with Hank. This is a defective and antiquated grading system that is being abandoned by most educators and our DOE is embracing it. Will the DOT now start purchasing all the 1950′s cars and trucks as well?

  12. Matt Drewette-Card

    The A-F based grading system, while familiar to the mass public, directly goes against the best methods for evaluating performance. Why is the Department of Education not promoting educational research, best practices, etc. in its policies, etc.? If you are to grade your system, establish a proficiency-based system and grade it using standards, rubrics, and levels of proficiency. The Letter grade system is inconsistent, subjective, unclear, and invalid. This is fact, not conjecture. Creating and promoting a system such as this only undermines the other great work being done at DoE to help districts design and prepare for a proficiency-based system that is supposed to be in place come January 1, 2017.

    Commissioner: If you are going to talk the talk, then you should also be walking the walk. If you are going to grade us as educational systems: fine… but do so in a way that mirrors best grading practices which do NOT include an A-F based system. Give us the standards we will be graded on, give us the proficiency scale, and then evaluate.

    Review the following and its references as a starting point:

    http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb08/vol65/num05/Effective-Grading-Practices.aspx

    Let’s bring some educational professionalism to this discussion, please… not just politics.

  13. I’ve been teaching for +35 years in Maine Public Schools, and it’s about time we have a rational, unbiased, multidimensional evaluation system for our schools. I’m anxious to see the actual evaluation tool and see how school systems use the data to improve education to our students. School choice, charter schools, school performance evaluation – all changes that will fuel anxiety, but in the end improve the quality of education we deliver to our young people.

    Ed Boynton

  14. No, A-F is not at all clear. As such a system does with students, it diminishes the numerous and complex aspects of school performance.

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