Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Ex-Education Superintendent John Huppenthal And I Have a Rare Moment Of Agreement, About State Grades

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2019 at 8:52 AM

click to enlarge COURTESY OF PIXABAY
  • Courtesy of pixabay

It's the oddest thing. Ex-Superindent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal doesn't appear to like A-F state school grades any more than I do. And, to raise the level of oddity a notch, he was superintendent in 2011 when the state grading system went into effect.

I was a regular Huppenthal critic when he served as Education Superintendent from 2011 to 2015. These days, he is a frequent commenter on my posts, and I continue to disagree with him on almost every educational issue worth disagreeing on. But under my last post criticizing the state grading system, Huppenthal chimed in with a total of five comments, which he summed up when he wrote, "The letter grading system does more damage than good. And, I am the guy who originally put it into state law." He went on to write, "They mix two calculations which can't be mixed: growth and achievement."

I agree with every word.

As I wrote in the previous post, the A-F grading system doesn't help much when, to use the example of two elementary schools in TUSD, a school with about 25 percent of its students passing the state's high stakes test and another school with about 70 percent passing both got a "B" state grade in 2019.

It doesn't make any sense to regular human beings that schools with such widely different student passing rates should get the same grade. To understand, you have to know that the school with a 25 percent passing rate increased about ten points from 2018, while the 70 percent school dropped about four points. You also have to know that student growth makes up half of a school's grade.

When a school gets a "B," does it mean it has high test scores or high year-to-year student growth? There's no way of knowing without taking a deep dive into the data. And the main purpose of the grading system is to make school comparisons easy to understand, as Huppenthal wrote in a 2011 letter introducing the state grading system.
"With the new A-F system, parents benefit by having, at their fingertips, an easy-to-understand, equitable school grading system when deciding which educational environment best meets their children’s needs."
That's the stated goal of the state grading system, to create an "easy-to-understand" way for parents and others to evaluate schools. Which means, the A-F grading system has earned itself a grade of "F," or at best a "D" if you want to factor in the effort that went into creating the failed system.

I don't place blame for the grading system's failure on Huppenthal or anyone else who helped create it or tried to improve it. They did the best they could. The problem is, state school grades are a stupid, destructive idea.

Stop fiddling with state grades in a vain attempt to improve them. Get rid of them and the high-stakes-testing horse they rode in on. If you won't listen to me, maybe you'll find Mr. Huppenthal, one of the creators of our state grading system, a more credible source.

An End Note Or Two: As I was getting ready to write this, I looked back over some posts I had written about state grades and found, a little over a year ago, I wrote another post citing a statement Huppenthal made about the problem with the state grading system. In a story on public radio station KJZZ, Huppenthal said, "Here we have this letter grading system that comes in and is beating, to put it bluntly, beating the hell out of schools that are serving the most at-risk populations." Huppenthal has had problems with the grading system for awhile.

In my last paragraph before the end notes, I implied that Huppenthal agrees with me that we should get rid of high stakes testing as well. I'm not sure that's entirely accurate, but I don't think it's incorrect based on other statements Huppenthal made on my last post. He ended one comment by writing, "So, in the end, test score accountability is a dead end, doing more damage than good." He isn't saying he's against standardized testing, just "test score accountability," which is the high-stakes part of high-stakes testing. And in his final comment, he wrote about working with David Garcia — yes, the Democrat David Garcia who ran for education superintendent and governor — on creating a testing system which sampled students instead of testing all of them. That would keep a system of standardized testing to evaluate the quality of education in Arizona without attaching a high stakes accountability system to the results.

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