You may be among the thousands of Arizona parents who bought pencils, notebooks, and backpacks last month to help your kids get ready for that first day of school. But with all the supply checklists, did you remember to check the grade for your child’s school?

In early August, Superintendent John Huppenthal announced the state’s new “A” through “F” school rankings, and the news sounded encouraging: More schools received an “A” this year than last year (25 percent vs. 20 percent) and fewer schools received a “D.”

Before we get too excited, Superintendent Huppenthal reports that the department studied the AIMS scores for the class of 2012 and found that only 7 percent of the students had scores that would predict at least “C”-level work in college.

So even though more Arizona schools got an “A” this year, those “A”s aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Kudos to the superintendent for pointing that out.

State policymakers should do two things to make this grading system benefit students more: First, increase the passing scores on state tests (and be prepared to do so on the impending Common Core test) so the schools that earn high marks really deserve it.

Second, lawmakers should expand education savings accounts to more students so families have more options than just a low — or even an average — performing school. Beginning in the 2013 school year, students in “D” schools will be eligible for the accounts, but that’s not enough. Just like I would expect more if my child were earning “C”s in school — and look for ways to help her — parents of children in “C” schools deserve more options. Education savings accounts help parents find solutions, from tutoring services and online classes to private school tuition.

Lawmakers need to make school grades a reliable indicator of how well schools and the children in them are performing, and parents need options so they can take action based on the results.

 

• Jonathan Butcher is education director for the Goldwater Institute.

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