Parents, educators and taxpayers deserve to know school accountability ratings

I’ve complained, often and loudly, about Georgia’s declining transparency and accountability in public schools. A series of maneuvers over the past few years led to less information for parents, educators and taxpayers about how their schools are performing.

This culminated last fall, when the Biden administration granted the Georgia Department of Education’s request to stop publishing the single scores, on a familiar 0-100 scale, that federal law requires for local districts and individual schools. The first building block of accountability is transparency. For many of us, that request represented a large, regrettable step backward.

But it wasn’t the final word. As I was taught growing up, complaining about what’s wrong isn’t good enough. You should also do what you can to make it right.

In this case, my organization, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, had everything we needed to produce these scores ourselves. We had the component scores – four for elementary and middle schools, five for high schools – as well as the weights the Georgia DOE previously used to produce the overall scores on its College and Career Ready Performance Index, or CCRPI. 

So we published them.

This past Thursday, we posted on our website the overall CCRPI scores from 2023 for every school district and almost every school in the state. A relative handful of schools didn’t have enough published data for us to calculate an overall score, but more than 2,400 schools did.

These overall scores are like a student’s grade point average. Of course it’s good to know the grades in each individual subject, but we also roll that up into an overall score that tells a simple, clear and meaningful story.

Here’s the story these scores tell.

The most recent year for comparison was 2019. In 2020, the standardized tests on which the scores are based were not given due to the pandemic. In 2021, not all students took the tests. In 2022, two components were not calculated, rendering an overall score impossible to tabulate.

So, we published scores for 2019 and 2023, and then compared them. Keep in mind that between these years, per-pupil spending in Georgia’s public schools increased by 27.5%, or 10% when adjusted for inflation. This represents billions of dollars of additional investment by local and state taxpayers.

However, student performance regressed. The overall CCRPI score among all Georgia elementary school students fell by 5%. For middle schools, it was 8%. For high schools, it was 6.8%.

If those seem like small declines, consider that the trend was steadily upward for years. These declines represent the reversal of multiple years of gains. They almost certainly reflect continued learning loss from the pandemic, when schools were closed for months or, in some cases, a full calendar year.

In other words, these numbers show us how much ground we need to make up, and how slowly we’re doing it. Knowing this, and adjusting policies and plans to make up this ground, is absolutely essential. 

Instead, the de-emphasis on transparency and clarity threatens to obscure how large a task is facing our educators.

Not every school or district experienced a decline. Many of them posted strong gains. And that’s the thing about keeping this information under wraps: It obscures not only those schools that aren’t making the grade, but also those that are excelling and are worthy of celebration.

In both cases, the crucial thing is to know what is happening over time. Are schools getting better? Worse? Stagnating? We need to have solid, comparable data over a number of years to be able to reach those conclusions.

Who is it that doesn’t want to know? Think about that question.

I encourage everyone to read our report and use our searchable database to find your own local district and schools.

Whether you work at these schools, send your children to them, or only pay for them with your taxes, you deserve to know what’s happening in them.

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