Opponents of Democrats’ school grade plan should explain why

Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen and Gov. Paul LePage discuss their new ABC Plan for education reform on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 in the State House in Augusta (Bangor Daily News, Christopher Cousins)

After Gov. LePage and his Department of Education released their grades for Maine schools, many looked at the metrics they used.

Specific analyses were critical of the measures used.

While I wrote a critique and pointed to research on why the school grades correlate to family income, probably the best analyses were produced by the editorial page of this paper and by Professor Emily Shaw, who wrote two excellent posts [first here and second here].

Maine Democrats released this proposal for school grades:

The evaluation system must include:

  • Accurate measures of student progress over at least 5 years
  • Interviews with parents, school board members, teachers, and other education leaders about the overall school climate and environment
  • College attendance and attainment rates over at least 5 years, including enrollment in the US Armed Forces
  • Peer group comparisons based on characteristics like special education, free and reduced price lunch, and ELL rates
  • Attendance rates
  • Evaluation of graduation rates based on 95% graduation, not 100%
  • More substantive rule making
  • Evaluation of performance targets, not penalization for student participation rates in standardized tests.

The evaluation system will not include:

  • A bell curve”

Now that Democrats have proposed items for school grades, opponents should step up and produce a detailed analysis

Thus far critics of the Democratic proposal have focused on process.

Their major criticism involves the suggestion the plan was developed quickly, although one legislator characterized it as having “no substance.”

However, the Democrats’ plan is full of specifics. It doesn’t lack substance.

It has a number of clear differences from the LePage approach. Some are:

  1. The governor used one year’s test scores, while the Democrats would use five years.
  2. The LePage approach lowered grades if student participation in testing fell beneath particular thresholds, while the Democrats will not.
  3. Democrats won’t force grades into a bell-shaped curve, unlike the governor’s approach.

Looking at those three, the Democrats’ approach makes more sense. Using a bell-shaped curve is poor practice and lowering grades based on participation is arbitrary. One year worth of data is problematic and multiple years provide a better picture, less affected by one-time issues.

Critics of the Democrats’ plan should explain which of these they prefer – and why. 

Since the administration won’t issue new school grades for another year, it’s time to assess all approaches with rigor.

Perhaps administrative officias will weigh in, or Republican legislators, or the Republican-allied Maine Heritage Policy Center.

The latter includes a staff member who is their education policy analyst, although her job description focuses more on implementing a certain approach to education, not analyzing it.

Amanda joined The Maine Heritage Policy Center in 2010. As MHPC’s Education Policy Analyst she works to implement customized learning into Maine’s educational system whether public, private, charter or online. Prior to joining MHPC, Amanda served for seven months as an English-speaking teacher’s assistant for a high school in Normandy, France. She graduated from Bob Jones University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and a minor in French. While a university student, Amanda researched welfare and education policy as a domestic policy intern with The Heritage Foundation of Washington D.C. which further inspired her desire to engage in a career that promotes the age-old principles and values upon which our nation was founded. [Source]

Whoever weighs in, it should be substantive and focused on the particular elements of the Democrats’ metrics.