Protecting and Promoting School Choice

EFI Publications

REPORT: Making the Grade




The Every Student Succeeds Act requires that states provide a public evaluation of the performance of each public school while providing broad discretion in how states devise performance frameworks. One common method consists of states assigning each school an A-F letter grade based on English and math proficiency rates and other measures of academic performance. Proponents of the summary letter grade system cite its simplicity as a virtue while detractors contend that the system is simplistic to a fault. To bring greater clarity and context to these ongoing debates we solicited opinions from parents regarding state letter grade systems. We conducted nine semi-structured focus groups with parents in Texas, Arizona, and North Carolina (three focus groups per state). These conversations revealed that most parents were not aware that the state grades schools. Once the performance framework was explained, most parents expressed a belief that it is overly simplistic and insufficiently deferential to what they perceive as the subjective nature of school quality. Parents also revealed substantial tension between their conception of school quality and the way it is operationalized in the report card, with the latter ascribing much greater importance to state test scores.