Students across Georgia are on the verge of their coveted summer break. For most of them, that means wrapping up their studies, perhaps taking final exams, and then waiting to see what their year-end grades will be.
And so, dear reader, may I suggest you sit down, and put away any nearby beverage — lest you spit it out at your paper or computer screen — as I relay some things being said about using an A-F grading scale to measure performance:
• What’s the difference between an 83 and a 79 anyway?
• It’s really not fair that both an 80 and an 89 entitle one to a B.
• Maybe we’d get better results if we didn’t report grades in such a simplified way.
• Failing that (no pun intended), maybe we shouldn’t have such rigorous tests. In other places, it’s much easier to get an A or a B.
• It’d be much better to let the ones being judged have more of a say in their evaluation.
Had enough? Now let me clarify something: These things aren’t being said by snowflake students who feel pressure or stress at the thought of receiving their report cards. Rather, they’re the sentiments of adults who work in education — and they’re talking about the grades their schools and school districts earn.
Don’t believe me? Consider that the first bullet point above, for example, is almost a direct quote from an op-ed state schools Superintendent Richard Woods wrote last October, weeks before being re-elected.
An A-F grading system for schools, as for students, is clear and transparent. It demonstrates the need for improvement and motivates better performance. But many school districts, administrators and teachers have long bristled at the idea they should be evaluated in a way the uninitiated — read: parents, voters and taxpayers — can readily understand.
These critics would prefer a less-demanding grading system for themselves: Woods’ op-ed also lamented that it takes a score of 90 out of 100 for a school in Georgia to get an A, but only a 67 in Louisiana or a 62 in Florida, as if parents in Toccoa are in the habit of comparing their schools to those in Tallahassee. Or, maybe, a system that’s a bit more gnostic, so that only those with special knowledge can judge the effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, of their local schools.
Why am I bringing up a seven-month-old op-ed? Ever since, there has been a quiet push for the state to drop the A-F grading scale for schools. It may even be gaining traction.
That would be a big mistake for a Kemp administration that understands today’s students will be tomorrow’s workforce. Georgia’s businesses, both large and small, need workers who can compete with peers from not just the rest of the country, but the rest of the world. We’re not keeping up, and a false sense of achievement based on a kid-gloves grading system won’t change that.
Comparisons between grades in Georgia and those in other states fall flat. First, Georgians would rightly be appalled if their schools (or their students) could earn an A for a score in the 60s, because they know that kind of mark doesn’t demonstrate the excellence an A indicates. If other states want to lower the bar for themselves, that’s their mistake to make.
Second, because everyone knows standards vary from state to state, we have national tests for making those comparisons. Georgia has shown steady, if only modest, improvement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, to name one such metric.
If we want a bright future, we need to know whether our schools are preparing students well — and then challenge the laggards to catch up. The last thing we should do is pat them on their heads, and tell them they’re doing fine after all.