Public schools' success measured in letter grades, under bill

Senate Bill 410 would create a five-star rating system based both on school climate and how well campuses use public money to improve student learning.

Schools and districts would be graded on a 100-point scale related to what the bill calls “quality of learning” -- including academic achievement and whether teachers make progress in closing performance gaps between groups of students.

Then, beginning in 2014 school year, the bill would also require state officials to use the 100-point rating system to create a letter grade -- A, B, C, D or F -- for every school in Georgia.

"Everybody has been frustrated” by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, said the bill’s sponsor, Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons. "AYP didn’t really give you an idea how well a teacher was doing or how well a school was doing."

State schools Superintendent John Barge said he wanted the grades erased from the bill before he could support it, along with changes he said that would clearly define the state education department's role overseeing the standards.

"What I'm worried about is losing any good will we've generated" with superintendents across Georgia, Barge said. The 100-point index, he said, "is much more descriptive."

The proposed letter grades have also rubbed teachers the wrong way. "I don't think anyone wants to go back down the road of blame and shame," said Tim Callahan, a spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.

Williams said the bill addresses the conditions set by federal officials, who last month granted Georgia a waiver from No Child Left Behind.

Among other things, Georgia will not have to meet the law's mandate that all students be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

Standardized test scores will still be used in schools' annual evaluations. However, they will carry far less weight as Georgia transitions to a system that will measure students' readiness to attend college or begin a career after high school. Georgia schools will also no longer be measured by its annual AYP status, often summed up as a pass or fail.

Critics of AYP said it ignored classroom successes in favor of a strict up or down measure which stigmatized schools considering to be "failing" under federal law.

SB 410 passed on a 38-13 vote. It now goes to the House for consideration.

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