Everywhere I go I find a pal
Peter Weinschenk, Editor, The Record-Review
This week, we report state school report cards for local schools. I sort of wish we didn’t.
The report cards are misleading and confusing, bordering on fake news.
The point of any report card is to measure something against an objective, standard measurement.
The state report cards do not do this.
The report cards start with students taking two standardized tests, the Forward Exam and the ACT. A standard report card would total up the test scores for all of the students in a school, calculate an average and then assign a grade to that score.
This is precisely, however, what state report cards do not do.
The report cards, instead, don’t just look at how the students did on the standardized tests, but also how student test scores have grown over the school year.
This can produce some “funny” results.
Let me use this year’s results as an example. This year, Athens Elementary School scored a 77.1 on its report card. That merited the school a grade of “exceeds expectations.” Let’s look at neighboring Edgar Elementary School. That school received a 72.9 on its report card. That score yielded a “meets expectations” grade.
That much seems clear enough, but let’s dig deeper.
Athens Elementary school received a higher report card score, but its standardized test score, 61.1, was lower than what Edgar posted, 71.4.
You might ask how is that possible? The reason is that Athens Elementary School students scored a 72.7 in growth, while Edgar Elementary School students only had a 54.7 in growth.
The higher growth score, despite a lower actual test score, yielded Athens a higher overall report card score.
Sound twisted? There is more. A standard report card takes a number of scores, gives each a weight and then calculates an average for a final grade. The report card is “objective” in that the scores are all weighted the same to arrive at a final grade.
The state report card, however, is neither standard nor objective.
Let’s go back to our example. Athens Elementary School got a 61.1 test score. That counted 19.1 percent towards the school’s grade. In the case of Edgar Elementary School, the school had a 71.4 test score. This higher score counted towards 23.9 percent of that school’s final grade.
Where does that leave us? The state report cards at best give us a rough idea how local schools are doing teaching state standards. They do not form a basis for comparing schools.
Let’s use a high school football analogy. Let’s say one high school team wins more games and scores more points over the course of a football season than a rival school. This rival school, however, improved the most during the football season. Would it make sense to crown the rival school the conference champion?
It’s perhaps a philosophical question, but most people would say no.
In a similar spirit, you can’t use state report cards to compare schools.