Superintendents criticize grading plan

Published 9:58 pm Tuesday, February 5, 2013

By Samantha Morgan

Capital News Service

Gov. Bob McDonnell is delighted but school superintendents are miffed that the House passed legislation Monday to give each public school a letter grade — A through F — based on its performance.

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McDonnell issued a statement after delegates voted 54-40 to approve House Bill 1999, which would require the Virginia Board of Education to implement such a system.

“I was pleased by the bipartisan support in the House of Delegates for our commonsense plan to bring more transparency and accountability to Virginia’s public schools,” McDonnell said. “I encourage my friends in the Senate to support this legislation that will provide a simpler way to understand a school’s performance on the state’s accreditation system.”

“It’s time for Virginia to adapt this common-sense A-F school grading system that has been successfully implemented in other states and will help us continue to make real improvements in the quality of our children’s education,” he added.

But the Virginia Association of School Superintendents expressed concerns about the A-F report card grading system.

“Most importantly, the reforms take away the constitutional power of cities and county governments to manage their own educational systems and appropriate money for that purpose,” Pat Russo, president-elect of VASS and superintendent of Henrico County Public Schools, said in a press release issued by the group.

Alan Seibert, secretary-treasurer of VASS and superintendent of Salem City Schools, said the grading system touted by McDonnell is used in states where the schools do not compare with Virginia’s.

Last week, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush joined McDonnell in urging Virginia legislators to adopt the letter-grade plan. During Bush’s first term in office, the A-F grading system was implemented in all Florida public schools.

“Quality Counts, Education Week’s often-cited annual national survey, ranked Virginia fourth overall in the country, well ahead of 11th-ranked Florida, 23rd-ranked Louisiana or 27th-ranked Oklahoma, whose A-F school report card has been criticized by Oklahoma parents,” Seibert said.

According to the VASS press release, officials who want to grade schools on a scale of A-F have an ulterior motive: “Take the ‘F’ schools away from local boards of education and put them under a state authority, which will spend local and state tax dollars on for-profit virtual school and charter school companies that purport to improve public education.”

Ben Kiser, president of the VASS and superintendent of Gloucester County Public Schools, cited links between Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education and “edu-businesses who fund it and stand to profit from the reforms if passed by state legislatures.”

Pending the outcome of the school grading reform bill, Jennifer Parish, superintendent of Poquoson City Public Schools, said, “It will mean the difference between who is better served by public education in the commonwealth — outside businesses or Virginia’s students.”

HB 1999 is being sponsored by Delegate Thomas “Tag” Greason, R-Landsdowne. It is part of McDonnell’s K-12 legislative agenda. Under the bill, the letter grade would be in addition to the more detailed accreditation standards for individual school performance.