Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Our five-star high school and its three-star rating

Wood River High School is a five-star school that got a three-star rating from the Idaho Department of Education in its newly unveiled Five Star Rating System of school performance.

Wood River High received an overall five-star score of 85 of a possible 100 points in the new system, but was automatically knocked down to three stars because it did not fully test 95 percent of students with disabilities. Of 31 students that should have been tested in math, the school failed to test three, just one too few.

In other words, for lack of a nail, the shoe was lost.

Asked about the severity of docking the school two stars for what looks like a minor error overall, the IDE said the lower ranking was required by education’s federal overseers who enforce the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law.

Wood River High School was one of two high schools docked even though their overall scores ranked with the best. Eagle High School near Boise was the other.

The IDE wants a rating system that’s easier to understand than the Adequate Yearly Progress reports on all schools that are based solely on test results required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. For most people, the reports are clear as mud and about as useful. The department wants to convince the federal government to let it replace AYP reports with the star-rating system.

A sample letter to parents on the department’s web site says the new star-rating system should be more accurate because it’s based on multiple measures and not solely on how many students can pass a test. Yet, Wood River’s ranking demonstrates that it’s not more accurate.

The school’s star rating is simple, clear—and wrong. But that’s impossible to explain to a public that can choose its hotels and restaurants, and now its schools, by the number of stars they receive. After all, the school-quality rating should be gospel because it’s awarded by the state.

Wood River High School is stuck with its rating for at least a year and so are local business groups and employers that use the quality of local schools to recruit new businesses and employees.

Instead of protesting vigorously when the school’s rating was announced, the Blaine County School District accepted it serenely. That was surprising given the area’s competitive community and the district’s fifth place rank in school spending statewide.

Somebody dropped the ball. Local people lend the district massive support and deserve better. Not only should the district protest the ranking, it must take pains not to make the same mistake next year.

State officials should re-examine the worth of a rating system that slaps dunce caps on top-tier schools.

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