Tennessee schools eventually will receive letter grades on their state report cards — similar to what their students receive — instead of the current system of rating them on a scale of one to five.

Gov. Bill Haslam signed legislation into law last week after the proposed change passed the House and Senate with little debate.

The new grading system will be implemented before the start of the 2017-18 academic year and will be developed by the State Department of Education. The grades will be based on a combination of data, including student growth and proficiency rates.

Supporters consider the law a common-sense aid to parents trying to navigate an increasingly complex school choice system.

“This new law represents a great step forward in our state’s ongoing effort to give parents across Tennessee better access to clear and transparent data about their children’s schools,” said Brent Easley, state director for Students First Tennessee, a group advocating to expand school choice options to include private school vouchers. 

But critics charge that letter grades lack nuance, oversimplifying the link between poverty and low test scores, and could stigmatize low-performing schools that receive Fs, as well as students who attend the schools.

“Publicly shaming schools that serve high-poverty students — including those that elicit greater academic growth than schools with affluent populations — is a terrible strategy to improve outcomes for the children who need high-quality schools most,” wrote one Arkansas teacher after similar legislation was enacted there in 2013.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law last December by President Obama, encourages states to consider a wide array of factors in addition to test scores in their accountability systems. Florida was the first state to assign letter grades to schools. Now, almost half of states have similar systems.