SCHOOL LETTER GRADES APPROVED
“Academic ratings and triggers for acclaim or sanctions should be issued for each K-12 public school district using a letter grade system (A, B, C, D, and F). Murphy Commission, Policy Foundation project, 1998
(March 25, 2013) The state General Assembly has approved part of a 15-year-old Murphy Commission recommendation that clarifies for parents the public school rating system, amending annual school report cards from numerical to letter grades.
The measure (SB 752), sponsored by state Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, would have “no impact to (the) state treasury,” according to its fiscal impact statement. The measure would take effect in 2014-15, and replace the current numerical grading system, adopted post-Lakeview1 with a letter-based system that relies on the following criteria:
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>“A” for schools that are rated “exemplary” by the state Department of Education;
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>“B” for schools that are rated “achieving;”
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>“C” for schools that are rated “needs improvement;”
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>“D” for schools that are rated “needs improvement-focus;” and
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>“F” for schools that are rated “needs improvement-priority.”
The measure passed the state Senate on March 13, and the House Education Committee last week. It is pending in the state House.
Murphy Commission Recommendation
The measure is a weaker version of the Commission’s recommendation for “academic ratings and triggers for acclaim or sanctions” based on student performance on a standardized national test.2 The Foundation published four annual reports (2005-2008) that issued letter grades to Arkansas public school districts based on student performance.
The Murphy Commission’s recommendation and the Foundation’s reports used the following letter grade criteria in grading public school districts:
Academic Success, “A” grade: Majority of students scoring ten or more percentage points above the 50th percentile (SAT) on reading/comprehension/writing and mathematics.
Academic Competence, “B” grade: Majority of students scoring at or above the 50th percentile on reading/comprehension/writing and mathematics.
Academic Weakness “C” grade: Majority of students scoring between the 40th and 49th percentiles on reading/comprehension/writing and mathematics.
Academic Alert, “D” grade: Majority of students scoring between the 30th and 39th percentiles on reading/comprehension/writing and mathematics; if improvement does not occur in one year, the district is placed on Academic Distress.
Academic Distress, “F” grade: Majority of students scoring below the 30th percentile; Director, Department of Education, must intervene after two years of no improvement.
Effect on Accountability
The measure is likely to have only a modest effect on accountability under the Department of Education’s current administration. A 2011 report for the department found “97 percent of Arkansas schools meet or exceed standards” in the report required by PA 35. The report did not rely on a standard distribution, creating an abnormally high percentage of successful schools.3 But a future administration committed to a higher level of accountability could rely on the measure to advance real education reforms.
1 PA 35 of 2003 (Second Extraordinary Session) created numerical rankings (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) for each district. The Act's accountability provisions were not fully operational until 2009-2010.
2 The Commission recommended relying on the Stanford Achievement Test (SAT).
3 “State Issues Numerical Grades to Schools” (Policy Foundation research memo) October 3, 2011. The Foundation’s reports, by contrast, calculated standard and modified distributions that found a similar number of top and failing schools. For example, the Foundation’s third report (2006-07) assigned the top grade (A or A-minus) to 18 districts and a failing grade (F) to 14 districts.