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Originally published Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 4:48 PM

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Editorial: Gov. Jay Inslee should lead on letter grades for schools

Gov. Jay Inslee, though he campaigned on rating schools with letter grades, now opposes a bill to do just that. He should engage to find a compromise that works.

Seattle Times Editorial

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IT IS disappointing that Gov. Jay Inslee, once for grading schools A through F based on their performance, is now against it.

During last fall’s gubernatorial campaign, candidate Inslee argued compellingly for letter grades as a transparent measuring stick. He touted grades for every elementary school, middle school and high school.

Though state Senate Bill 5328 would do just that, Inslee is against it. If schools are to improve, educators cannot shy away from accountability.

Letter grades are transparent and recognizable gauges of academic performance. Parents who speak very little English or are unfamiliar with education jargon understand letter grades because they see them on their kids’ report cards.

The bill proposes grading schools on a balanced set of criteria including reading, math and science test scores, graduation rates, college readiness and number of students taking advanced classes. It passed the Senate but languishes in the House.

If the bill passed into law, implementation would start with a yearlong pilot in 10 schools, ensuring a thoughtfully slow ramp up.

Grades can be a bit of a blunt instrument as any student could tell you. Helping parents understand what an A or B or C means as well as what improvements it should spur are part of the conversation.

Still, there is widespread agreement that parents need a way to rate schools.

Federal-education law requires every state to create an achievement index that measures schools. The state Board of Education is developing one that uses verbal ratings such as “struggling,” “fair” and “exemplary.”

Clarity and precision in the language used is key.

State Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, wrote SB 5328 and is open to changes that help it pass muster in the House. Gov. Inslee should lead on these efforts, rather than puzzling everyone by opposing an idea he once supported.

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