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Yet another update on rating system timing

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

Too bad I've already submitted my prediction to Seton Hall Assistant Prof. Robert Kelchen's guessing game — the Education Department is now saying it won't have a draft of its college rating system ready until fall.

From Deputy Under Secretary Jamie Studley's blog post today:

The scope of responses, complexity of the task, and importance of doing this thoughtfully and usefully led us to decide that it is worth taking more time before publishing a proposal for comment, interchange and improvement. In the meantime we are continuing conversations with educators, families, leaders and researchers. We are on track to come out with a proposal by this fall and a final version of the new ratings system before the 2015-16 school year.

The original plan was a draft this spring with final ratings by January.

Several ratings experts have said, assuming the Education Department works with data it already has, the actual work of rating colleges doesn't take long. It's determining the formula for the ratings (and Studley indicates they're considering a variety of factors that will make this formula quite complicated) and making sure that the results look right that's the most labor-intensive.

For an example of how the latter step can go horribly wrong, a look back at the Indiana school grading fiasco last summer is instructive.

There, state schools chief Tony Bennett allegedly changed the grading system so that a donor's charter school would perform better. Some people argued that this decision was entirely reasonable — the charter school had a great reputation, and the fact that it earned a C indicated that there was something off about the grading system. For the public to buy into the state's grades, they had to reflect reality as most people understand it. But the optics of the change cost Bennett his job.

In the same way, any system where, say, Harvard University or the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, don't rate well (an A grade, or platinum, or five stars, or however the Education Department chooses to dole out indicators of quality) is going to face some raised eyebrows among the public.

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