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What the Race to Top Judges’ Scores Tell Us

By Michele McNeil — March 29, 2010 2 min read
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Behind the overall scores for the Race to the Top applicants is a complicated 500-point grading scale that weighs each state’s plan according to more than a dozen different categories. The peer reviewers’ scores and comments shed more light on the method behind the Race to the Top scoring madness.

After a quick review of the 16 finalists’ scoring charts, here are some highlights I picked up:

Why Delaware and Tennessee won—In addition to the reasons detailed here, it’s clear in looking at the judges’ scores that the full panel of five peer reviewers agreed these were strong applications, in all categories. There were no wild swings in which one peer reviewer awarded a state all points in one category, while another peer reviewer drastically disagreed and awarded low points. In Florida’s scoring, by contrast, one peer reviewer thought the state’s plan for turning around lowest-performing schools was worthy of a perfect score, or 50. Another peer reviewer thought it was worth only 30 points. In Colorado, there was a 42-point difference in how the peer reviewers individually scored the teacher- and principal-effectiveness category. (To arrive at a final score, the individual judges’ scores were averaged.)

Why Louisiana got a surprisingly low rank of 11th—Although there are many reasons, one big one is that the state lost out on an easy 15 points that all other finalists got for addressing STEM as a priority. Only two of the five peer reviewers agreed the state addressed this, not a majority of reviewers, so the state got none of the 15 points in this all-or-nothing category. An additional 15 points would have vaulted Louisiana to fourth, ahead of Florida but still behind Georgia. UPDATE: I just noticed that Louisiana became dangerously close to being entirely knocked out of the competition. Only three of the five peer reviewers declared, in a simple “yes” or “no” vote, the state met the “absolute priority” of offering a comprehensive approach to education reform. If one more judge had voted “no,” then the state’s application wouldn’t have been considered at all.

Where the District of Columbia is not in need of improvement—In turning around the lowest-performing schools. Each of the five peer reviewers awarded D.C. a perfect score of 50 points, which, by my review of the scores, is the only place in any finalist’s application where peer reviewers reached unanimous agreement on perfection. D.C.'s final score placed it 16th.