Why not grade all schools by growth?

What if we graded every Indiana school by growth, not by performance? And why shouldn’t we? Under state law, growth-only grades are considered appropriate for schools in their first three years of operation. And for Indianapolis Public Schools “innovation network schools” that reopened under new leadership. Why shouldn’t other schools get the same treatment?

In fact I’ve argued previously that growth should be the sole metric for using test scores to evaluate schools. Using performance – the percentage of students who pass state tests – produces entirely predictable results: Low-poverty schools are “good,” high-poverty schools are “bad.”

If we’re going to grade schools, it makes more sense to grade them on whether students improve over a year’s time, not on the education level of the students’ parents or real estate values in their neighborhoods.

Here’s a list of K-8 public and charter schools, sorted by their growth scores, highest to lowest. You can search the list by district or school name and see where your local schools fall.

If we applied the usual grading rubric – 90-100 is an A, 80-90 is a B, etc. – nearly three-fourths of the schools would get A’s. But since this is just an exercise, we can set the cut-offs anywhere we choose. I set it to achieve the same curve that resulted from applying Indiana’s actual grading formula: 28 percent of K-8 schools get As, 30 percent get B’s, 24 percent get C’s, 10 percent get D’s and 6 percent get F’s. (I don’t mess with high schools; their grading formula is more complex).

Scan the list and you’ll see there’s no clear pattern to which schools are successful. There are traditional public, charter, high-poverty, low-poverty, urban, suburban and rural schools in every category.

The highest-scoring schools are John Wood Elementary in Merrillville, School No. 93 in IPS, Slate Run and Fairmont elementary schools in New Albany, and Glen Acres Elementary in Lafayette. One charter school, Paramount School of Excellence in Indy, cracks the top 10. Quite a few of the A schools in the growth-only approach got A’s anyway; but a lot of them got B’s, several got C’s and one even got a D.

Ultimately, we should end the silly and destructive practice of labeling schools with letter grades. But if we’re going to grade schools, using growth is fairer and more interesting than the state’s current formula, which weights growth and performance equally. If it’s right for some schools, why not all?

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One thought on “Why not grade all schools by growth?

  1. Thank you, Steve! Growth is somewhat meaningful if it is labeled clearly as such, if how it is measured is described, and if it and can be compared from school to school. I do not think that it presents an accurate picture of the “quality” of the school, which is what school grades purport to do. “Growth” as it is used in Indiana is a measure based on standardized testing. There are all kinds of problems with the tests in the first place. I think most parents want a school with adequate resources and experienced teachers (as well as younger ones bringing energy and new ideas). We want libraries and extracurricular opportunities. We want playgrounds, greenery, and well maintained buildings. We want challenging classes and hands-on opportunities. The strange situation posed by the growth measure is that you can have a school with 4% of the students passing the math assessment that gets an “A.” In most cases, that school is not going to seem to be one that is likely to provide challenging and advanced coursework. It may very well be a school with hard-working, thoughtful, and positive teachers…or not. How on earth would we know? Very likely it serves a high-poverty population. Still, I would say that the score by itself provides no meaningful information and does not tell us what we need to provide the school and the students.

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