School report card legislation advances

Missouri schools would start receiving letter grades based upon how well they perform on state standards under legislation approved Thursday in the House.

The measure calls for education officials to produce a simplified report card for public schools and for charter schools that have classes beyond second grade. The report cards are to indicate the state standards that apply to the school, how the school scored and the corresponding letter grade for each standard. For state performance standards with multiple components, the report card also would list the score and letter grade for each piece.

Schools would not receive an overall letter grade, and principals could provide up to 250 words of context or background about their scores. The report cards would be limited to a single piece of paper.

Supporters said the information would give parents meaningful and accessible data about how their children’s schools are faring.

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask to require a little bit of transparency, and a little of accountability and a little bit of availability that this information be available to constituents, your taxpayers, your voters,” said House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, who called the measure needed but not “groundbreaking education reform.”

Opponents said measuring school performance is complicated and that boiling it down to a letter grade is too simplistic.

“You are getting branded with a certain grade that then carries implications that may not be there,” said Rep. Margo McNeil, D-Florissant.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has produced a report card for individual schools available on its website. Supporters of the legislation said the simplified report cards proposed under the legislation could be easier to locate and understand. The first report card would be available by December 2014.

Schools would be required to notify parents and the community about the report cards and provide an Internet link to it on their websites.

In addition, the legislation would require that a school scoring less than 70 percent overall submit an action plan to the state education department detailing what will be done to improve the score during the next academic year.

Education advocacy groups have said reflecting school performance through a letter grade enhances information to parents. The Missouri School Boards’ Association said a letter grade can be too simplistic to provide meaningful information because there are many aspects involved in measuring school performance.

The House approved the report card legislation 128-23, and it now goes to the state Senate. The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Kathy Swan, R-Cape Girardeau.

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