Should Kentucky move to an A-F accountability system for its sch - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Should Kentucky move to an A-F accountability system for its schools?

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- As Kentucky's redesign of its school accountability system moves forward, one of the state's top education officials says he would like to see an A-F school grading system.

Kentucky's Education and Workforce Development Secretary Hal Heiner says the state should use a dashboard that is "clear and easy to understand."

"There appears to be some support for the use of a dashboard with various indicators providing a holistic picture of schools’ performance," Heiner says in a report he will present during Wednesday's Kentucky Board of Education meeting.

"While the use of a dashboard could be promising, we believe a dashboard should be used to supplement a clear and easy to understand," he says. "And there is no school rating system more clear and easy for parents and communities to understand than an A-F school grading system."

To date, 17 states have adopted an A-F school grading model, including Indiana and Ohio, as a way to communicate to parents and those in the community members about how well schools are helping students achieve and succeed.

However, the move has been controversial because many educators say the grading system can have a negative impact on schools. Many superintendents across the country have been opposed to reducing their school's performance to a single letter grade, saying that schools are more than a score.

"While there may be confusion about what the names of accountability classifications mean, including colors, stars, or levels, parents understand very clearly that a B school has overall performance that is at a higher level than a D school, that an A school has overall performance that is at a substantially higher level than a D school, and that an F school is probably not a place where they want their child to attend," Heiner said.

The Kentucky Department of Education has been working for the past year on developing a more effective accountability system, which stems from congressional passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

That law shifts much of the oversight and responsibility for schools from the federal government to the states, including how accountability is determined and how to define and improve low-performing schools.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt has made developing a new accountability system a top priority since he was hired a year ago. He's held dozens of meetings across the state to gather feedback from parents, educators, students and community members.

“It is my goal to collaborate with legislators, educators, students and the public to produce a system that is fair, reliable, valid and easier to understand than what we have now,” Pruitt has said.

As commissioner of education, Pruitt oversees all public schools in Kentucky, while Heiner was appointed by Gov. Matt Bevin to serve on his cabinet. 

During Wednesday's meeting with the Kentucky Board of Education, Heiner will tell the state board that the use of an A-F school grading system "focuses attention on schools and student populations that are in the most need, providing a clear and transparent mechanism for identifying schools for targeted and comprehensive interventions."

"Depending on the grades awarded, school grades have the potential to be both sources of community pride or catalysts for community action," Heiner says in his report.

Heiner says a frequent criticism of accountability systems that give letter grades to schools and school districts is that "labeling a school as failing says to children attending the school that they are in some way failures."

"That argument, however, is misguided," he said. "First, it is clear that the letter grades given to schools are grades for the schools, not the children who attend the schools."

Heiner adds: "What should be more concerning for parents and community members than a school grade of F, is the fact that the school’s performance is so subpar that it warrants a letter grade of F."

"It is time for Kentucky to adopt an accountability system that is honest about schools’ performance," he said. "Only an honest and transparent assessment of schools’ performance can lead to the targeted support and intervention needed to provide high quality learning experiences for all of Kentucky’s children."

Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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