, Port Arthur, Texas


November 14, 2012

A clear grading system needed for schools

AUSTIN — Right now the Texas Education Agency is deciding how our schools and school districts should be graded. I think that we need a more straight forward approach.

Every six weeks our students get a report card that is easy to read and understand. Everyone knows what an A means and everyone knows what an F means. Why shouldn’t schools be graded once a year using the same A-F system?

The evidence is mounting that the most effective way to communicate how a school is doing in preparing students for the world after high school is a simple A-F system. This system is easily understandable by everyone since, at one time or another, we’ve all been graded using the same system.

Texas wouldn’t be the first state to adopt such a system. There are at least 10 states using this system now. The first was Florida.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who championed this grading system, said that the A-F system has made the public schools in Florida better because it rewards improvement, and there are many ways to improve. Even moving from an F to a D would be an improvement with some kind of reward attached.

Former Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith strongly believes in the system too. He told an Oklahoma newspaper that Oklahoma’s decision to become one of the latest states to adopt the A-F system should be praised because it will have a profound impact in classrooms across that state.

This kind of grading system could be a tremendous catalyst for increased academic performance. The current Texas grading system is hard to understand, even by educators. It’s overly complicated and can mask the true performance, or lack of performance, by our schools.

There are some in Texas who advocate for a simple pass or fail system. Either a school is “acceptable” or “unacceptable.” That plan would let schools escape with mediocre performance hidden in the overbroad “acceptable” grade. If a school is “acceptable” what does that really mean? It’s comparable to your child knowing all that they had to do was the minimum to make straight A’s. There would be no incentive to work hard to improve, and the value of that A would be greatly diminished. We want better for our children and for our schools.

If Texas is going to maintain its competitive economic edge well into the future, and increase the number of career and college ready high school graduates, we not only need a strong accountability system to test what students know, we also need an effective way to grade the schools on whether their students are learning what they need to know.

Unless we are able to dramatically increase the percentage of students graduating post-secondary ready, Texas will no longer be able to compete for the jobs necessary to maintain our strong business climate and economy. We will all suffer if that happens.

I applaud Senate Education Committee Chair, Senator Dan Patrick, for supporting this idea. I hope as more lawmakers learn about it they will support it too.

I believe that the best way to achieve this dramatic improvement is to maintain a strong accountability system that tests students and grades schools using an A-F system, and ensure that schools that are making D’s or F’s get extra help to improve. We need to give parents and students more choices if a school consistently fails with no sign of improvement. If we do those things then we will have the same kind of profoundly positive impact that Oklahoma is expecting and that Florida has already seen for years.

Bill Hammond is President and CEO of the Texas Association of Business.

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