Updated: Feb. 5, 4 p.m.
A measure obligating Virginia public schools to receive A through F grades has passed both the House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate.
The House of Delegates passed H.B. 1999 Feb. 4 in a largely bipartisan 54-40 vote. Del. Tag Greason (R-31) sponsored the bill.
A similar bill in the Senate, sponsored by Bill Stanley (R-20), faced a tougher challenge. After narrowly escaping the Education and Health Committee 8-7, S.B. 1207 split the Senate by party lines. In the Feb. 5 vote, all 20 of the Senate's Democrats voted against the bill while all 20 Republicans ruled in favor. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, acted as the tiebreaker, ruling in favor of the measure.
The bill is part of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell's education reform plan. Under the proposed legislation, local school boards, in addition to establishing accreditation standards, must develop a grading system for their districts' schools by Aug. 1. The grades schools received would be public.
McDonnell argues that assigning schools letter grades would be easier for parents to comprehend.
“This simple and clear system allows parents to better understand how well their child's school is performing. Great accountability and transparency are key to helping parents be a part of the solution of under-performing schools,” McDonnell said in a prepared statement.
While being contentious in Senate, McDonnell's bill has also faced criticism from major education groups in the state, including the Virginia School Boards Association and the Virginia Education Association.
“Education is a complex problem. It's simplistic to just put a letter grade on it,” said Meg Gruber, president of the VEA. Gruber continued, “It seems to be this idea that parents need information. I'm not sure this is going to make them anymore informed.”
The Virginia School Board Association notes that not only is the process of assigning grades oversimplified, but is also redundant. Academic evaluations are already available for both school districts and individual schools on Virginia's Department of Education website.
Wayde Byard, public information officer for Loudoun County Public Schools, says the district has no official stance on the policy. Under the currently metric, Loudoun County has met targeted levels in reading and mathematics. Similarly, according to Stanley, just 52 of Virginia's 2,093 public schools would receive a D or an F.