The opinions stated in this article are solely those of the author and not of the Davis Clipper.
To a Utah legislator, it must have seemed so simple. In order to hold schools accountable for their teachers’ performance and to give parents a snapshot of how their tax money was being spent in the classroom, just come up with a one-size-fits-all point system and give each school an overall letter grade.
Now, after last week when the letter grades were released, we can see how “simple” should not be confused with “relevant”.
What is the problem with assigning a letter grade? How about the fact that Davis High received an A while Viewmont High School, only a few miles south and sharing the same type of student demographic, received an F? Or all three of Salt Lake City’s high schools were cited as under-performing, despite the fact that the one with the lowest mark receives national recognition for its International Baccalaureate program.
A southern Utah legislator tried to justify the grading system by saying that for the first time, parents can see problem areas and demand that local principals improve the instruction.
Sorry, but I don’t think parents know any more about their neighborhood schools than they did a month prior. If anything, it will allow some parents to ignorantly pat themselves on the back (“Boy, we did a nice job selecting real estate in a neighborhood where we have an A school!”) while others will be unnecessarily upset. (“No wonder Joey doesn’t like school; the place got an F!”)
As any teacher knows (and every parent should too), letter grades are a somewhat squishy form of indicating intelligence or performance. Some children, no matter how physically fit, will never receive a high grade in physical education. Some naturally bright students can sleep themselves to an A while others can pull their hair out in a futile attempt to pass a geometry test.
It gets worse when legislators base the school grade mostly on scores from a standardized test. Some students test well and some test poorly; some of my brightest students would freeze up with given a No. 2 pencil.
The school grading program did shine a light on one fact; schools with low-income parents and a diverse language population don’t fare well when compared with those east bench schools populated by parents with college degrees and a Lexus in the driveway.
Surprise, surprise! Try coaxing superior standardized test scores at a school in which the student body speaks 16 different languages and where the parents work multiple jobs rather than taking their sons and daughters to book clubs. Even a good attempt isn’t rewarded. The Salt Lake Tribune gave an example of a school formed for at-risk students. In one year, the graduation rate rose from 18 percent to 62 percent. The school still received an F.
My advice to parents would be this: Ignore the silly grades. If your son or daughter’s school got a high mark, don’t do a victory dance. The teaching staff probably still contains a few stinkers and a national test score doesn’t mean your child will be creative, inventive or successful. (Steve Jobs was a horrible student.)
And if your school got a D or an F, don’t panic. You are the best judge of your student’s level of knowledge and willingness to work, and every school offers some superior learning experiences.
There’s also something to be said for attending a school with students from different cultures, and backgrounds, something that an exam won’t reflect.