Don’t Let the Stars Get in your Eyes
Those of you who are old enough might remember that as a big hit for Perry Como. For contemporary times, check out the new 5-star rating system that the State Board of Education has recently put into place to rate the schools of Maryland.
The system is in response to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) the successor to No Child Left Behind (NCLB). ESSA requires the states to develop a system to evaluate and grade the public schools. The details still need to be worked out but this is how it is supposed to go. The system uses several factors in the calculations, such as surveys of parents and teachers and the attendance rate of the students. However, 65% of the rating will be based on academic measures, primarily test scores. All of these data will create a score for each school. Those scores will then be translated into percentile rankings. Percentile rankings are not percentages. The percentile score tells the percentage of schools that scored below the percentile ranking. So, a percentile score of 75% would mean that a particular school did better than 75% of the schools on the list. The score does not tell you what the range of scores was or what the scores were of the schools at the top of the range and what the scores were of the schools at the bottom. Hypothetically, if the total possible score is 150, and the top score is only 80, a school could have a very high percentile ranking BUT still have a very low overall score.
The next question the Board needs to figure out is how many stars will each percentile ranking get. The State Department of Ed staff recommended a 4-star system with schools between the 24th-74th percentile ranking would get 2-stars. The State Board rejected that approach for a 5-star system.
While on the surface, the rating system may appear to be objective, it is not. The Board has already agreed to reward schools that show increased equity for some groups such as students with disability or students of color. If a school shows too wide an equity gap, their star rating could drop. The converse would be true is a school showed equity improvement, the star rating would rise.
Secondly, the basing stars on percentile rankings can easily reward schools that are the best of the worst rather than the best. Percentile rankings inherently measure in comparison to the group. If you are good in a bad group, your percentile ranking will go up. The same score in a good group could deliver a much lower percentile.
Some citizens who are more interested in property values than they are in improving schools are already complaining that going public with the star rating of schools will lower the property values for people in those communities with bad schools. In truth, the star system just makes public and official what it is everyone already knows. Most real estate websites also informally rate schools.
We already know that in the top 20 percent of what are considered the “best schools” by popular consensus only show a PARCC testing pass rate of 50%. What if those schools get lots of stars, how will that be explained to the community.
Perhaps the Maryland State Board of Education should contact Michelin and see how they handle restaurants. Or barring that, dig out that very old Perry Como tune and don’t let the stars get in their eyes.