With decades of education research showing the impact school poverty rates have on standardized test scores, accounting for this fact when attempting to measure school quality is not uncommon. In fact, Grand Valley State University, Michigan’s highest-rated authorizer of charter public schools, adjusts for student socioeconomic status when evaluating its schools’ success.
Further, a recent study in Missouri recommends using an academic growth-based school ranking model that considers student background. Economists Mark Ehlert, Corey Koedel, Eric Parsons and Michael Podgursky write in the paper: “It is difficult to understand how a system that ignores [student background] and attempts to signal to all (or nearly all) disadvantaged schools that they must perform better will help improve instruction.” In fact, they note, such a grading system could make things worse, and “…could result in a perpetuating cycle of the destruction and re-invention of instructional practices at disadvantaged schools, whether these practices are effective or not.”
State officials should keep this in mind when designing a statewide school accountability system. The reality is, however, that even though the state’s TTB list can be improved, it will never be a perfect measure of school quality. There will always be error in any methodology that assumes to be an authoritative measure of school quality for nearly 3,000 schools that vary in size, location, emphasis, mission, demographics and a host of other characteristics.
Plus, there is no guarantee that what is chosen to be measured and graded is what parents actually value in public schools. For example, some parents may value schools that provide safe learning environments, flexible schedules, unique curricula offerings or community involvement more than schools that happen to be ranked high based on standardized test scores.
However, the state should provide some level of accountability of its public schools since public schools are provided with tax dollars and an assured level of enrollment regardless of school performance. The state can and should improve its ranking methodology, within the bounds of federal restraints, and implement consequences that provide incentives for low-scoring schools to improve and give students a chance to enroll in a school that better serves their needs.