Legislative Column for March 10, 2014
By the Numbers Letters

It is time for school success to be measured and reported just as student achievement is measured and reported with clear, concise, understandable letter grades. Why not inform parents about their child’s school by giving schools the same grades - A, B, C, D and F - which students get? Letter grades, due to their straight-forward indication of performance, will encourage better communication within schools and with parents. Last Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee heard arguments for and against Senate Bill 521 which would require most public schools to convert their detailed evaluations into a letter grade to be reported to parents.

In states where grading of schools has been implemented, schools have seen significant improvements in measured performance once these grading scenarios were implemented. In one state, when they initially implemented letter grades for the schools, almost three-quarters of their schools were graded C or below. At the end of a decade about three-quarters of their schools were graded A or B, and in those 10 years they had increased the standards at least twice.

“The academic literature on school letter grades is limited,” said James Shuls, the education policy analyst for the Show-Me Institute, when he testified in support of similar legislation last spring. “However, the existing evidence suggests that school letter grades have a positive impact on student achievement.”

Letter grades for schools address the need for transparency within school districts. Grading systems like this make it easier for people of all backgrounds to look at a school and instantly know how the school is performing. Kate Casas from the Children’s Education Council of Missouri said, “Parents, as well as community members, business and philanthropic leaders need accessible, understandable, transparent information about school performance.”

In the same way student report cards include comments noting their success and improvements, so will the schools. Each report card must identify the school’s performance as having improved, remained the same, or declined based on the prior year in terms of letter grade and value.

Parental involvement is often cited as one of the two most valuable elements of student success, the other being teacher quality. Every parent will understand the implications of their child’s school being graded A, B, C, D, or F and will be more likely to look deeper, ask questions, and become more involved in the entire education system. Removing some of the mystery of public education will invite parental involvement; isn’t that what we all want? Strange that public opposition to SB521 came almost exclusively from teachers’ unions, a school boards’ association, and school administrators’ associations. On second thought, maybe we don’t all want more public involvement?

Thank you for reading this legislative report. You can contact my office at (573) 751-2108 if you have any questions. Thank you and we welcome your prayers for the proper application of state government.