A-F School Grades Don’t Tell The Whole Story, Parents Say

Dec 29, 2016

The state’s A-F school grade system is set up to rate a school based on students’ test scores and academic growth. But some say the formula doesn’t capture the whole picture of what makes a great school.

Washington Township Schools parents Edward Curtis and Regan Zwald were dismayed this month when the state handed down a D rating for their children’s Greenbrier Elementary School — a sudden drop after two years of consecutive A’s. The couple said the multi-racial, multi-language school has benefits for their children that can not be judged by the state’s metrics.

So Curtis, an IUPUI religious studies professor, wrote an op-ed for the Indianapolis Star defending the school. The piece, “Why we love our D-rated school,” has been shared heavily on social media.

Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Eric Weddle talked with Curtis and Zwald, the school’s PTA leader, about how they think parents should assess schools.

IPB News: The school that both your children attend was rated an “A” the past two years. So what were your first thoughts when you saw that grade come out, based on what you knew about the school already?

Zwald: So our son has been at an “F” school, a “C” school, an “A” school and a “D” school — and he’s never changed schools. So it’s very frustrating. And we at a certain point we can laugh this off and say “well we know that it’s different.” But we also know that parents are using these to guide their decisions. It’s not a helpful system. The students haven’t changed that much. The schools haven’t changed that much. The grading system is broken. That’s when an academic gets made, he sits down to write.

Curtis: My first thought was not a thought it was my first reaction was a feeling. I was angry because that’s now the label, the big banner, that was put on this place that I care about that is serving hundreds of students; that we have put hours and hours of volunteer work into. And so it just made me plain mad. And so oftentimes when I get mad I write. And so that’s when I decided I would write an op ed and really sing the praises of the school that is serving not only our kids so well is serving hundreds of children so well.

IPB News: So what are some of the aspects of the school that you like so much that you don’t think is recognized in this letter grade.

Zwald: Right. The things you can’t measure. When I talk with other families at our school, the things we like about the school are not necessarily the academic work. We have our kids at this place where they are actively practicing kindness. They are learning conflict resolution and they are working and playing alongside kids very different from themselves. And is it always perfect you know. It’s a human endeavor. These are developing children but I think this is what we need to be doing more of.

Curtis: Any day you can go into the school and you hear not only English but also Spanish and Arabic and other languages. I love that.

IPB News: The Governor-elect Eric Holcomb he kind of favors is still a single A-F grade and the Superintendent-elect for McCormick says she is more open to kind of like a report card maybe style where the be multiple grades in different levels. You guys have a sense of what you would like to see. I mean do you think this idea should be scrapped. I mean it’s been controversial since it came in 2011.

Zwald: I think what helps parents is talking with other parents and other families. The numbers don’t mean much. A broader evaluative system would be fantastic. I think we can now agree that’s the simple A to F is not helpful. It’s close to meaningless. It’s as a friend of mine says it’s really the poverty grades. We can pretty easily measure schools and buildings, rankings, based on the degree of kids experiencing poverty.

Curtis: Whether you’re on the right or on your left something everybody can agree on is that parents are responsible for their children’s education and that means that you don’t get to outsource your parental responsibility to a state agency giving an A through F grade and then decide on that basis you know where you’re going to send your kid to school. It means that you have to take the time to investigate your neighborhood school to investigate the schools to spend some time inside the building and to talk with other parents in order to find out whether or not that is going to be a good place for your kid. There is no substitute for the for community and parental involvement here.

IPB News: Thank you very much.

Curtis: Hey thank you, Eric.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at eweddle@wfyi.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.