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Local superintendents concerned with impacts of new grading system

By Frances Hubbard, Fhubbard@ tidewaterreview.com

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In the fall of 2014, each Virginia public school will receive its first letter grade, ranging from A to F, for the school's overall performance.

The new grading system was approved unanimously Thursday by the Virginia Board of Education. The system was proposed earlier this year as part of the Governor's education initiatives and was passed by the General Assembly in February.

Schools will receive their initial letter grades at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year. The grades will accompany school accreditation ratings issued each fall and will be assigned based on students demonstrating proficiency, academic growth and college and career readiness.

Locally, school superintendents are concerned about the new system and the impression one letter grade may leave on parents and the community.

"It is difficult to measure the complexities of school operations using one grade," said King William Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mark Jones. "Using multiple measures provides parents, community members, and educators with a better picture of how well schools are performing… one grade cannot adequately represent how well a school is doing addressing the many different aspects involved in educating our young people."

Dr. Stanley Jones, superintendent of King and Queen County Schools, agrees.

"The new system is redundant – we already have multiple means to report school status through existing federal and state accountability models," he said. "There is already considerable confusion in utilizing current measures... In addition, many of the legislative efforts aimed at measuring school success have been developed by those who have no idea of how to truly measure student academic progress, much less overall school improvement."

Dr. Stanley Jones also said the new system raises multiple questions, such as how will it affect state funding and will it take into account recent strides toward improvement? He was also concerned that changes in the grade a school receives could impact a community's economy.

Under the system adopted by the Board of Education last week, 50 percent of the grade of an elementary or middle school will be based on overall proficiency in English, mathematics, science and history/social science; 25 percent on overall growth in English and mathematics; and 25 percent on growth in English and mathematics among the school's lowest-performing students.

A high school's grade is further broken down with 33 percent of the grade based on overall proficiency in English, mathematics, science and history/social science and 25 percent based on indicators of college and career readiness, such as graduation rates, college credits earned and completion of advanced career and technical education (CTE) programs.

In addition, eight percent of a high school's grade will be based on participation in dual-credit courses and board-approved CTE assessments; 17 percent will be based on growth toward college and career readiness; and 17 percent will be based on growth toward college and career readiness among students at risk of not graduating.

All schools can earn bonus points based on performances on Standards of Learning assessments.

Hubbard can be reached by phone at 804-885-0042