At the recently held Education Accountability Summit, dozens of state education leaders and activists met to help shape Florida's path forward in several key areas of education accountability and improvement. One was the topic of school grades. Over the course of the summit, the attendees agreed on the following strategic priority for any adjustments to the current school grading system moving forward:
"Improving our education accountability system to further ensure transparency and fairness while providing meaningful and useful information to our parents and educators about how our students and schools are performing;…" (emphasis added)
The specific inclusion of "students and schools" as two different levels of performance to be able to monitor is key, and highlights one of the major sources of confusion in the existing system. The current school grading system measures performance predominantly in two ways: proficiency and growth.
- Proficiency is primarily a measure of student performance (i.e., how well are students performing at meeting appropriate performance targets?)
- Growth is primarily a measure of school performance (i.e., how is this school doing at moving students forward at or above an appropriate rate each year?)
Florida has already placed an emphasis on keeping track of both, which can each be very meaningful and useful for different purposes. When both types of measures are combined and reported as a single score, it becomes confusing to separate out what is a reflection of the work the school is doing versus what may be a reflection of external factors that students bring to school with them.
Moving forward, one option might be to think about separating the two types of measures and using the growth component to primarily evaluate school effectiveness for purposes of recognition and accountability measures, and use proficiency to help determine where to focus more resources. For example, a school with low proficiency levels but high growth may be identified as a model for making gains with students who need help the most and targeted for more support to expand what they are doing even more until proficiency levels catch up.
In the visualization linked above, we broke down the recently released 2013 elementary and middle school grades into their proficiency (horizontal axis) and growth components (vertical). You can see that because the growth and proficiency measures are combined in calculating school grades, Ramona Boulevard (low proficiency, high growth) ended up with the same overall school grade as Richard L. Brown and Smart Pope Livingston (low proficiency, low growth) last year.
(Tip: Hover your cursor over a mark to see more information about that school. Use the drop-down options to the right of the graph to change districts or sort by school type, use the tabs above the graph to switch between school levels. For iPad or iPhone users, tap the visualization to interact with these features.)