Trends and Possible Improvements in School Quality Rating Systems

It’s a classic tenet of performance management that what’s measured gets done. It’s likely to be true for public school accountability measures, too.  Getting those measures right, and shining a bright light on them for education leaders, policymakers, and parents is crucial for forward movement in school quality.

A new review of 25 school quality rating systems by Public Impact’s Lyria Boast and Tim Field for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools revealed clear trends that may help rating system designers and users move toward optimal system designs.

The rating systems inventoried included some from state departments of education, large public school districts, charter associations and authorizers, and private news and advocacy organizations.

Trends found among the systems included:

• the inclusion of student growth, useful for evaluating a school’s quality based on its students’ progress–a new standard, the authors say, for quality rating systems.

• the expansion of college- and career-readiness measures–going beyond graduation rates to include important, new indicators.

• an exploration of new ways to focus attention on the lowest-performing students–as the authors say, “great schools are great for all students in the building.”

• an interest in valid measures of student engagement–although systems focus on academic outcomes, some try to capture school culture as well.

• simplified reporting formats to categorize school quality.

• an increase in data transparency and public accessibility–so that a rating system can be judged not just by its accuracy, but by how available its data are to users.

The authors see progress in establishing more meaningful measures of school quality despite the difficulty of comparing school quality across states. They identify useful approaches to creating effective rating systems, and foresee a stronger system for evaluating quality across states following the adoption of Common Core-aligned assessments.

Quality systems must clarify not just what’s different among schools, but what’s better. Shining light on meaningful and accessible performance indicators is crucial for public accountability, and good decision-making by families. This report indicates that some organizations are turning on brighter lights­—and raising the bar for states, districts, and charter authorizers that aren’t yet measuring and reporting what matters to the public and families making decisions for their children.

-Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel

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