Ours is a society obsessed with rankings.
Whether taking a deep-dive into online research before a purchase or courting a good review from a recent customer, a high ranking and multiple stars is a Holy Grail in today's marketplace of goods, services and reputation management.
Cities, counties and states vie for coveted top ranks versus neighbors across categories of economic development, crime stats, quality of life and more.
When it comes to customer service experience or product quality, we're conditioned to believe without careful consideration a glowing five-star review guarantees we'll be happy, no questions asked. But as the discovery of fictitious and fraudulent reviews on the websites of Amazon, Walmart and other retail giants prove, the truth isn't always in the stars.
This sometimes problematic rating system now has found its way into Kentucky's new school performance assessment system.
In coming weeks, public schools across the Commonwealth will receive performance evaluations for the past school year to include a rating of one to five stars.
Approved by the U.S. Department of Education under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act and Kentucky's Senate Bill 1 in 2017, this is the first year for the new five-star rating system. Prior assessment ratings of "proficient' and "distinguished" no longer will be used.
State Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said the new system will better measure and promote improved access to higher quality learning, reduce equity gaps among student sub-groups and will build stronger cultures for instructional expectations and performance across Kentucky's public school system. These are critical improvement goals considering 51 schools fell in the bottom 5 percent of Kentucky's 1,220 schools.
Communities expect and deserve to know in clear terms how their public schools are performing in preparing children for successful futures. Certainly parents want to know.
When implementing another assessment change, one is left to wonder why an A-F system wasn't chosen. After all, it is clear what each letter in that system means. While the tried-and-true letter grade system has worked across generations to measure student achievement or lack thereof, perhaps such a ranking system that includes the concept of failing would be too transparent for state education officials, district leaders and individual educators to use in assessing their own performance.
Most every mom and dad will understand how five stars differentiate from a rating of only one. But what about understanding the difference between a four-star school and one with a five-star designation, or a three-star and a two-star school? Will a one-star school be seen as a failure?
A committee of education leaders will complete its work in early September to establish criteria and standards to be used in the new star-based system. As policy, practice and funding decisions are influenced if not solely guided by assessment rankings, getting the details in the new system right is critical.
To best understand how Kentucky's underperforming schools are making urgent and necessary improvement progress while top tier schools continuously advance, the state also must stick with a system over time.
Just as a change made in the grading scale won't improve a student's command of the classroom material being taught but only confuse or disrupt the measurement thereof, the same is true for measuring school, district and state performance.