A divided state Senate Wednesday approved giving schools grades of A through F based on their performance starting in fall of 2014.
A pilot program to test the grading system would start this fall and continue through the 2013-2014 school year, involving five districts chosen by the state Superintendent of Public Instruction. The grading system would then be implemented statewide in 2014-2015.
It’s a more relaxed timeline than originally proposed by Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, who initially wanted all schools to start receiving grades of A through F starting this fall.
A majority of Democrats opposed the bill, saying than an A through F grading system merely labels schools, without providing adequate information about how they are progressing in different subjects like reading and math. Several Democrats advocated an approach that would give more detailed verbal descriptions of how schools are performing in different areas.
“If it’s just an F grade for an entire school, you lose the nuances that are part of every single school in our state and in our country,” said Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle. “It’s treating a school like a piece of cardboard.”
Members of the Republican-led majority caucus said that letter grades provide clarity that parents need to help them understand how their schools are doing.
“What we’re trying to do is to make it clear to every parent,” Litzow said. “Not every parent has the academic background that we do here in the Legislature, or speaks English.”
A last-minute amendment to the bill would designate any school that receives an F as a “required action district” that could receive additional funding to help it make improvements.
Amendment sponsor Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said that he thinks that helping struggling schools requires a funding commitment, not just a new assessment system.
“Instead of just labeling a school with a simple letter grade, this amendment provides hope, it provides resources, it provides a turnaround that has been proven to work,” Billig said. “Let’s provide these schools with hope and resources.”
The bill passed the Senate 26-23. It now will head to the House, which is run by Democrats who will most likely fight its passage.