May 2, 2013

In other states, letter grades drastically affected communities

Home values rose in top districts, poor schools lost support and the ratings got people's attention.

By Susan McMillan
Staff Writer

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Figlio and his co-authors found that schools' staffs respond to the grades, in varying ways. Some respond negatively, by cheating or otherwise trying to game the system, while others make concrete attempts to change by restructuring the school day or exploring alternative ways to group students by performance.

Figlio said Maine's grading system, which uses growth measures and proficiency rates, should keep schools from trying to game the system, because growth measures are harder to manipulate.

"If we are going to see a school grading system, I like something like what Maine's done," Figlio said.

Because the combination of looking at growth and proficiency rates means that there's some reward to having high proficiency, but on the other hand it's fairer to schools that serve less advantaged student bodies."

Figlio said school grading "doesn't revolutionize the way schools are doing business, it doesn't turn mediocre schools to outstanding schools, at least overnight. I'm still agnostic on the policy, in part because I see costs to it, but I do see these benefits as well."

School grading systems in other states often attach incentives or punishments, such as bonuses for schools with high grades or provisions to let the state take over schools with persistently low grades. Some states have offered vouchers or other school choice options to students at schools with low grades.

Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday that he would like to see schools and teachers rewarded financially for elevating students' growth.

LePage included a $3 million "school accountability" fund in his proposed two-year budget to help failing schools. It was rejected last month by the Legislature's Education Committee and is now before the budget-writing committee.

Jaryn Emhof, spokeswoman for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, said an A-to-F grading system can be effective without further rewards or sanctions from the state, particularly in stimulating community engagement to improve schools.

Emhof said other states, including Florida, started with the grading system and then added other reforms such as school choice.

"We would hope Gov. LePage and (Education) Commissioner (Stephen) Bowen will not stop at just implementing A-F and we don't think they will," she said.

Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at:

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