The House Education Committee this morning approved HB 1151 to suspend the state’s school rating system for a second year because of the pandemic’s impact on teaching.

The bill is by Rep. Brian Evans of Cabot. He noted that the system was suspended last year when school stopped before the end of the school year. Evans said the state Education Department supported his bill. Evans said it was unclear if standardized testing, currently planned to resume this year, will in fact resume. The last test was administered in 2019.

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The tests are the major factor in school ratings, though some other factors including graduation rate and other factors are also considered. Growth in scores is also measured, a comparison that can’t be made this year because no test was given last year.

Education Secretary Johnny Key said the department couldn’t say the data would be “consistent, reliable and stable” across all schools.  He said some measure of instability will likely still exist in the next school year, even if the pandemic is arrested. “We’ll have a better idea a year from now what the next school year looks like.”

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The data will still be collected, including standardized test scores, but it won’t be reduced to an A-F grade, Key said. Evans had said in introducing the bill that he believed it still wasn’t clear the tests would be given. The Biden administration may yet waive the testing requirement this school year, as occurred last year. The state has said the testing is vital to qualify for federal money in support of schools.

Gary Newton, a Walton money-supported lobbyist, opposed the bill. He said his group initiated the rating to provide a snapshot for parents. “That snapshot is important,” he said. If tests are administered, he said the rating system should continue.

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Many education experts say the school report cards are grossly misleading, that they measure family circumstances — poverty particularly — rather than student or school performance.

Newton’s group also backed bonuses for high-performing schools.  Schools in higher-income areas disproportionately benefit from this money.