IB-2000 (Feruary 2000)
Author: Pamela Benigno
What the Bill Does:
Senate Bill 186 mandates state report cards for the public schools. Each school will be given a letter grade for academic achievement and a letter grade for school safety. Other information such as teacher qualifications and use of taxpayer funds will be included on the report card. Synopsis: To grade schools on safety when it is difficult to ensure fair measurement, may do more harm than good. Grading schools student academic performance is a positive step towards greater accountability, resulting in higher levels of student achievement. Unfortunately, SB 186 requires some fine-tuning because it requires grading the schools on a curve rather than assigning the grade based on the percentage of students who have met the state standards.
I. PROBLEM WITH REPORT CARD ON SAFETY
Schools take on their own personality in academic standards as well as standards for student behavior. Just as one parent has a different definition and tolerance level for a misbehaving child than another parent, so do principals and teachers. It is difficult to grade school safety in an objective manner as outlined in SB186. There can never be a standard measure for such behavior such as a habitually disruptive student. [Note: after this paper was delivered to the state legislature, the provision for safety grades was removed.]
This system pressures principals and teachers not to report incidents that they might have otherwise reported. Teachers who have higher expectations for student behavior than the other teachers in the school, or than the principal, could be pressured by peers and superiors to lower their standards, to not report incidents, and not to seek the principals help with disruptive students. A school staff with higher standards for student behavior may report more incidents than a school that employs a staff that is more lenient. How will anyone know if all incidents are reported? The degree of accuracy will vary from school to school. We have seen recent news reports around the country that shows students penalized for sharing cough drops, carrying nail clippers, and even first-graders kissing. These incidents fall under zero tolerance definitions of drugs, weapons and sexual harassment. It also proves that school administrators need some leeway.