In an extraordinary indictment of the test-and-punish regime imposed by the federal No Child Left Behind and renewed last December in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, Bill Mathis and Tina Trujillo of the National Education Policy Center decry the kind of rating and ranking of schools that was reproduced on September 15 in its 2016 version here in Ohio: “The greatest conceptual and most damaging mistake of test-based accountability systems has been the pretense that poorly supported schools could systemically overcome the effects of concentrated poverty and racial segregation by rigorous instruction and testing. This system has inadequately supported teachers and students, has imposed astronomically high goals, and has inflicted punishment on those for whom it has demanded impossible achievements.” “This diverse nation and our common good require all students to be well educated. Yet, we have embarked on economic and educational paths that systematically privilege only a small percentage of the population. In education, we invest less on children of color and poor families. At the same time, we support a testing regime that measures wealth rather than providing a rich kaleidoscope of experience and knowledge to all. And we do not hold ourselves responsible for the basic denial of equal opportunities.”
Yesterday, Rich Exner, the data analyst for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, examined the newest Ohio school district report cards that award letter grades to school districts based on their students’ test scores: “The Ohio school report cards released earlier this month were nearly perfect in following an established trend—higher income districts on average scored better than those with lower household incomes. This was the case for five of the six overall categories in which the Ohio Department of Education issued grades…. The incomes were typically higher for the districts getting As, and the incomes were typically the lowest for those getting Fs. Incomes for Bs, Cs and Ds correspondingly declined.”
How the state came up with each of its graded categories is not entirely clear, but for five of the categories there can be no confusion about the correlation of the state’s letter grade with each school district’s median income:
- In the category of ACHIEVEMENT, A-rated districts’ median household income is $69,286, while F-rated districts’ median income is $27,090.
- A-rated districts in the category of GRADUATION rates have a median household income of $43,075, while median income in F-rated districts in this category is $26,406.
- In the category of GAP CLOSING, the median family income in A-rated districts is $63,191, while in F-rated districts the median income is $36,989.
- In the category of PROGRESS, median income in the A-rated districts is $41,881, while in F-rated districts, it is $37,119.
- In a final category, PREPARED FOR SUCCESS, A-rated districts boast median family income of $74,508 while families in F-graded districts struggle at $27,389.
Howard Fleeter, analyst at the Ohio Education Policy Institute, examines the same data, and despite that Ohio used a new and different test last spring, his overall conclusion replicates what he has written now for several years running: “This analysis is far from the first to demonstrate a strong negative correlation between student achievement and socioeconomic status. However, this data shows that in Ohio, the negative correlation between socioeconomics and student achievement has proven all too persistent over time.”
Exner and Fleeter demonstrate what sociologists have been explaining for fifty years: the well known correlation of standardized test scores with inequality of family income, not school quality. These analysts, however, do not comment on the effect: Such rating systems drive economic segregation. And the impact of such school district grades is reinforced when real estate services like Zillow promote the ratings to emphasize the desirability of moving to districts with “high-rated” schools.
States like Ohio, that brand schools in wealthy communities with As and brand school districts serving poorer children with Fs, are resurrecting the practice of redlining by creating incentives for families with means to abandon poorer communities and move to wealthy, homogeneous school districts in outer ring suburbs. Such educational redlining promotes racial and economic segregation.