The South Carolina House of Representatives rejected a plan to grade public schools on an A-to-F scale Wednesday, instead favoring a scale that ranges from "Excellent" to "Unsatisfactory."
Teachers, lawmakers and lobbyists have debated the issue of how to grade South Carolina's schools since late 2015, when the federal Every Student Succeeds Act required each state devise its own system for holding schools accountable.
Some educators rejected the idea of an A-to-F scale, reasoning that it would stigmatize struggling schools. One idea they presented was a "dashboard" for each school that would display a colorful array of metrics for its strengths and weaknesses.
Others, including some lawmakers and lobbyists representing charter schools and school-choice initiatives, favored an A-to-F scale. One survey conducted by the pro-charter group SouthCarolinaCAN found that one-third of South Carolina voters preferred letter grades to other methods, and 62 percent said they'd be more likely to get involved with improving their neighborhood school if it earned an F on a report card.
"If that report card came home and it said the exact same thing that our kids’ report card said, it’d be evident that they need to either engage their school, get involved with the PTA or leadership in the school," Rep. Eric M. Bedingfield, R-Belton, said during debate on Wednesday. "Maybe it would motivate them to say, ‘I don’t want my child going to an F school. What can I do about it?’ "
Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews, fired back, pointing out that the A-to-F scale had already been rejected in meetings leading up to the accountability reform bill vote Wednesday.
"Do you think negative reinforcement is a good way to discipline schools?" Ott said. "Let’s call it what it is. Let’s say that we’re gonna try to motivate schools and school districts to do better by embarrassing them and by shaming them and by guilting them to try and do better."
The school grading scale, as described in House Bill H. 3969, would include an overall grade of Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average or Unsatisfactory. These grades would be based on the Profile of the South Carolina Graduate, a set of standards adopted by lawmakers in 2016 that includes characteristics like "Integrity," "Perseverance," "Interpersonal skills" and "Knowing how to learn." The state has not developed tests or methods for assessing students on these standards.
The amendment to introduce an A-to-F scale was tabled by a 72-39 vote. The House bill won second reading approval by a 104-5 margin.
A companion bill in the Senate, S. 534, would place schools on a scale of "Excellent" to "At-Risk," the same terms used during the No Child Left Behind era in South Carolina.