October 10, 2022

Gail Sunderman: Gaming the School Ratings System

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In the LA Progressive, Gail Sunderman provides an in-depth look at the school rating systems that have been used in various states, and how they are driven by politics more than any particular interest in school quality.

Often, the point is to target schools for takeover or replacement.

Making school accountability systems “tougher” can have negative consequences for schools, especially in Oklahoma, where schools with grades of D or F are subject to mandatory interventions that may include having their staffs reconfigured, having their management transferred to a charter school organization, or being shut down outright.

It’s telling that the policy analyst hailing the “tougher” rating system in Oklahoma works for FEE. That organization, which has since changed its name to Excel in Ed, according to the Center for Media and Democracy’s SourceWatch project, was founded by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush in 2008, shortly after he finished his tenure in office, and subsequently led by him for a number of years.

In at least one case, the rating system was gamed in the other direction for other purposes.

While Bush was governor, Florida was the first state to enact a grade A-F school rating system, according to the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and during his tenure, his administration made a series of changes to the rating formula that caused vast differences in outcomes.

During the early years of Florida’s new school grading system, according to Matt Di Carlo of the Shanker Institute, the percentage of schools receiving A’s rose from 12 percent of schools in 1999 to 60 percent in 2008, and there was a significant drop in the percentage of schools receiving grades of D or F.

However, Di Carlo found, “The grades changed in part because the [rating] criteria changed.”

Specifically, according to Di Carlo’s analysis, “The vast majority of these shifts occurred either between 1999 and 2000, or between 2001 and 2003. … This pattern is mostly a direct result of changes to the [rating] system in those years.”

Jeb! intended to run for President in part on his education policies, and to do that, he needed a Florida miracle in education, even if he had to manufacture it. 

There’s a lot to digest in this piece. Read the full article here. 

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