Governor Inslee And Grading Schools

Leave it to Jay Inslee to abandon the one good education idea he actually campaigned on last November. On his campaign website,  the Governor vowed to “institute a system of public accountability that gives a grade to every high school, middle school and elementary school.” He even clarified this position several times during interviews throughout the campaign.

But Governor Inslee recently flip-flopped on that very issue when he opposed SB 5238, a bill that would grade public schools on an A-F scale. Even though he “vowed” to institute just a few short months before (see video), the Governor now wants the issue to be more carefully studied. Just another obvious concession to his friends at the Washington Education Association, who helped him win last November’s gubernatorial election.

Parents and taxpayers, on the other hand, overwhelmingly support SB 5238. According to the Seattle Times, a recent poll commissioned by Stand for Children found two-thirds of the respondents supported letter grades for public schools.  Under the SB 5238 grades would be based on test scores, graduation rates, college readiness and other factors.

But SB 5238 never made it out of the House Education Committee, much to the dismay of Republicans in the legislature. Some, like Representative Cathy Dahlquist, mocked the Governor in the media. “’I support school grading; now I don’t support school grading,’” said the ranking Republican on the House Education Committee. She added, “He seems very conflicted.”

It’s not that hard to understand Governor Inslee’s motivation, SB 5238 was targeted for defeat by the Washington Education Association. The  Governor is extremely loyal to the teachers union, who has generously supported his political career. The WEA sees letter grades as a misleading oversimplification, noting the state already has an achievement index that adequately describes public school performance. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Under the current achievement index, schools are indeed given a descriptive label depending on student performance. But the labels are too generous and vague. The top two categories are “exemplary” and “very good”. But schools that would earn a ‘C’ grade are currently labeled “good”, and schools in the second lowest category receive a “fair” rating. Only the lowest performing schools, the equivalent of an ‘F’ rating, are considered “struggling” according to the state index.

Letter grades are meant to clearly convey school performance, increase accountability and spur parent involvement. Telling the public that average schools are good, and below average schools are fair, is faux accountability at best. At worst, it’s purposefully misleading. SB 5238 is a reasonable bill that parents and stakeholders understand. The Governor made a mistake in abandoning his original position on letter grades for schools. Unfortunately, we should probably get used to it.

~ Honest Educator

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