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Some state departments of education and moving to remove the grading systems for schools that they established starting in the No Child Left Behind era. The idea behind those systems was that parents need a simple way to understand how the schools their children attend are performing. They would then be able to make more educated decisions about where to send their kids to school.

If the question is whether the A-F system of rating schools is helpful and easy for parents to understand, then you have to ask why there are millions of students attending schools with D and F grades. A second question is: Does a single letter grade tell a parent any more about a school than it does about a student?

The A-F system is based, as many other things that have happened in education, on an effort to standardize the processes in schools.  But all of this standardization is misplaced when we really take a look at how learning happens and realize that providing a single standardized approach to instruction is doomed to failure since every child learns differently.

Currently, most schools are designed on an industrial model of widget-making. That model says that the most efficient system is one that has identical inputs, the same processes, and identical outputs. But children are far from identical in how they learn, what they want and the level of skills they have developed.  Trying to process diverse inputs through a common process has resulted in only about 35% of students performing proficiently at grade level in the U.S. There can’t be many manufacturing plants in our nation that can be content with a 65% failure rate. But that’s what happens when you impose an inapt model on how students learn.

What’s missing in all of this is a focus on the science of learning. Most teacher preparation programs never address the brain, the neuroscience of learning or the cognitive skills that are how we learn and that account for 50% of the variance in education outcomes.  If we don’t focus on the biggest factor that contributes to learning, we shouldn’t be surprised that it is so hard to move the needle. The problem is not the measurement system, it’s the way the system itself is designed.

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