Letter-grade plan flunks in committee

Posted 3/11/13

A Republican-sponsored bill that would have designated a letter grade-based system for school performance, as well as sped up the process by which …

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Letter-grade plan flunks in committee


A Republican-sponsored bill that would have designated a letter grade-based system for school performance, as well as sped up the process by which underperforming schools are reviewed by the State Board of Education, died in a legislative committee on March 6.

Rep. Kevin Priola of Henderson, the sponsor of House Bill 1172, sought to move away from terminology that is used to describe accreditation categories for public schools, toward a more “plain language” approach that he said parents could more easily understand.

Priola wanted to simplify the language by using the same letter grade-based system for schools as is used to determine how students perform in class, replacing the “Greek” terms that currently are used to describe how schools are performing.

“Unless you are actually in the know in the education establishment, those terms don't really mean anything to you,” Priola told members of the House Education Committee during testimony that preceded the March 6 vote. “But … A through F actually means something to most people who have gone through education.”

The Board of Education, under the Education Accountability Act of 2009, applies terms like “Accredited with Distinction” to school districts that are meeting or exceeding educational expectations.

At the same time, if a school is not meeting expectations, the board can apply an “Accredited with Turnaround Plan” tag, with the goal of getting the school back on track, in hopes of avoiding corrective actions like loss of accreditation.

But opponents argued that applying letter grades would oversimplify how schools are performing. Cherry Creek School Disrict Assistant Superintendent Elliot Asp cautioned that “the impact on a letter F” could have serious ramifications for schools, causing a disincentive in attracting new teachers.

Asp also reminded committee members that former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, backed away from a letter grade system in 2001.

“Sometimes what appears as something that is simple is complex,” Asp said of labeling school performance.

What concerned opponents the most was the part of Priola's bill where parents could lobby the Board of Education to speed up the process by which local school boards take corrective action on schools that are underperforming.

Under current law, if public schools are in the bottom two performance categories, they have up to five years to make progress before the board is required to take corrective action.

But Priola's bill would have given parents more power to petition the Board to speed up the corrective action process, if they had students at schools that have been in the bottom two performance categories for two consecutive years.

After a parent petition process, the matter would have been taken up during the next scheduled state school board meeting. If the board were to make a determination that the school must be reformed, the local school board would have been required to hold a public meeting to implement the changes within 30 days, under Priola's bill.

“It just seems to be extremely aggressive,” said committee member Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora.

Asp and Sally Ogden of the non-partisan League of Women Voters agreed with Fields, with Ogden saying that it's unrealistic for school to implement major changes that quickly.

“If, after two years, you switch a school to another system, you're effectively starting over,” Ogden said.

Maybe that's what's needed, argued Republican supporters.

“This is all about kids being able to go to a school where they can get the best education possible,” said Rep. Carole Murray of Castle Rock. “In this age where 50 percent of students drop out of school … when are we gonna actually do something?”

The bill failed on a party-line vote of 7-6 in the Democratic-controlled committee.


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