TSS Blog

School Letter Grades should fairly assess student growth and achievement

In 2016 the Tennessee General Assembly passed a new state law that mandated the Tennessee Department of Education to create a school rating system on an A-F scale.

This rating system essentially serves two important purposes for the state. First, it ensures that Tennessee complies with the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA). Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, this new school rating system will provide parents with a helpful tool to see how well their schools are serving students.

Each state has the ability to design its own school assessment tools to meet the requirements outlined in ESSA, but Tennessee has delayed doing so for a variety of reasons. The biggest reason was of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. Tennessee education leaders understandably did not want to roll out a new accountability system during a time of pandemic-related disruptions, but with the pandemic behind us, we welcome the enthusiasm new Education Commissioner Lizette Gonzalez Reynolds has shown to roll out this new accountability system in November.

Under Reynold’s leadership, the department held 10 public hearings in August and September to gather input on how the new School Letter Grades should be designed to grade schools. Much of this discussion centered around the delicate balance of recognizing the academic growth of schools with high numbers of students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and special needs with the real importance of informing the public about each school’s actual achievement.

We believe a good way to meet this balance is to look at how Florida public schools are evaluated. Our southern neighbors utilize the following criteria.

  • Achievement Components: Measures the percentage of students enrolled for a full academic year who achieved a passing score in English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies on statewide standardized assessments.
  • Learning Gains Components: Mathematics and English Language Arts are used to evaluate learning gains. This component also measures learning gains for 25% of low performing students in Mathematics and English Language Arts.
  • Middle School Acceleration: Percentage of students that received a passing score on a high school end-of-course assessment or industry certification.
  • Graduation Rate: Measures if an adjusted cohort of ninth grade students graduated within four years.
  • College Career Acceleration: Uses the percentage of graduates from the graduation rate cohort who received a passing score on an acceleration exam (AP, IB, or AICE exam), passed a dual enrollment course, or received an industry certification.

School Letter Grades should provide families, parents, and communities with accurate information on how schools are preparing students for success. We believe this information should fairly assess schools so that parents have an accurate understanding of student growth as well as achievement.

In addition, assessments of student attendance and chronic absenteeism should be included to measure how schools can foster constructive learning environments for students. Research has found that students who develop chronic absenteeism may have a reduced chance of receiving a high school diploma by 20 percent.

We also believe college readiness is a metric that will help parents understand how K-12 schools are preparing students for higher education and the workforce.  Thirty-seven other states include college readiness as an indicator in similar school report cards and Tennessee should follow that example.

Incorporating these changes will ensure the School Letter Grades that rolls out in November is a tool parents can use to not only learn more about their community’s schools but also to make informed school choices. School Letter Grades can be a source of accountability and transparency while also helping the Tennessee Department of Education identify schools in need of additional resources,

Building a School Letter Grade system must provide a holistic view of a school’s strengths and areas of growth to ensure that Tennessee students are given the skills they need for future success.

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