Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: A-F School Report Card – We Can’t Let This Become Law

At a recent Business in Education Partnership meeting, Superintendent Toni Jones shared information about proposed education policy to the attention of the Falls Church business community. Because it is important to all Virginians, we would like to share it with the entire Falls Church community.

Virginia Governor McDonnell designated 2013 as The Year of the Teacher. In his January 3, 2013 press release the Governor celebrated the many ways that teachers “instill a love for learning, a respect for fellow mankind and a belief that the American dream is achievable by all, regardless of ZIP code or station in life.”

The Governor also announced several education policy initiatives aimed at raising the achievement of Virginia students. These are currently being considered in the Virginia General Assembly. They include allowing Teach for America to operate in Virginia; letting schools decide where certain staff are most needed; providing intervention for students in need of extra academic help; and implementing an A-F Report Card for Virginia public schools.

We applaud the Governor’s focus on improving education, but have serious concerns about the A-F Report Card. Several statewide education groups, including Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) and Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS), are opposed to this policy.

Why am I writing about this in the Falls Church News-Press? To ask the engaged citizens of Falls Church to contact their local legislators to voice their concerns about The A-F Report Card.

Here is what you need to know:

Under the Federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools were required to demonstrate “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP) as the measure of student achievement. When enacted in 2001 AYP seemed like a good way to motivate schools to improve every year. However, in practical application, AYP had serious flaws and unintended consequences. Some schools that were clearly successful by many measures failed to meet AYP because of unexpected quirks in the measurement of success. When AYP was waived last year by the U.S. Department of Education, many applauded the removal of this flawed metric because its unintended consequences did not promote successful teaching and learning.

In place of AYP, several governors, including Governor McDonnell, are advocating statewide A-F School Report Cards. Like AYP, at first this idea sounds like a reasonable way to grade schools for their achievement.

The concern of Virginia educators is that the A-F Report Card will have unintended consequences, similar to AYP. The VSBA asks: “Does this type of system benefit education, or will it ultimately distract from improving the educational process?”

The A-F Report Card mandates a bell curve – which means that many great schools will be pushed into B- and C-range. If the proposed A-F Report Card becomes law, some Falls Church schools, along with many excellent schools in Arlington and Fairfax will receive less-than-stellar grades, simply because the diversity of our student populations, the school size, and other metrics will count against us instead of as extra credit!

Recently Virginia schools were rated fourth in the nation in an Education Week report. As a state we need to celebrate our success, not invent new measures that could be punitive. As Virginians, we have the benefit of seeing the unintended consequences of this law in action in other states. Florida and Oklahoma have already enacted an A-F Report Card.

Oklahoma educators and business groups, were initially supportive of this plan, but are now rethinking it because of unintended consequences. Schools that are considered highly successful by many measures are receiving mediocre grades and unnecessary criticism.

Just last week researchers from Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma released a study of the A-F Report Card. As reported in Tulsa World, on January 17th, “Despite good intentions, the features of the Oklahoma A-F grading system produce school letter grades that are neither clear, nor comparable; their lack of clarity makes unjustified decisions about schools,” researchers wrote. “Building on what has already been done, Oklahoma can and should move toward a more trustworthy and fair assessment system for holding schools accountable and embracing continuous, incremental improvement.”

Strong schools lead directly to a strong community and strong economy. If we allow Virginia’s schools to be graded as less successful than they really are by our own state government, the unintended consequences will include more high-stakes testing, deflated economic development, reduced property values, and less focus on the high-quality teaching and learning that we all value.

A-F Report Cards are not good for kids, not good for schools, not good for communities, not good for Virginia!

This will be coming up for a vote in the next week. We urge you to contact your Virginia Delegate or Senator about the A-F Report Card. You can even contact the Governor. Falls Church’s legislators are Senator Dick Saslaw and Delegate Jim Scott.


Marybeth Connelly is the Community Outreach Coordinator for Falls Church City Public Schools.