If there’s one giant mistake that both Democrats and Republicans have made down through the years when it comes to improving North Carolina’s public schools it’s the repeated attempts to impose gimmicks and quick fixes. Rather than simply giving the experts the resources they need, standing back and pointing in the desired direction, politicians of both parties have displayed a never-ending affinity for cutesy programs with politically-motivated names and tactics.
One of the most recent and worst examples of this unfortunate fixation for politicians is the new and fatally simplistic plan (thanks, Senator Berger!) to affix letter grades on public schools to characterize their supposed performance levels. A new editorial in the Charlotte Observer  succinctly explains why the whole plan should be consigned to the circular file:
The N.C. legislature, in a budget Gov. Pat McCrory signed last week, has delayed until after Jan.15 the issuance of new report cards with A-F grades for academic quality at each public school in the state. Instead of a delay, lawmakers should take this pause in implementation as an opportunity to ditch the idea entirely. It’s unwise and problematic.
Those points are buttressed by a report from researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of Southern California last November. The report, published in the journal Educational Researcher from an evaluation of accountability systems in 42 states and the District of Columbia, panned the A-F letter grading system. The authors said: “While A-to-F systems are, on the surface, transparent, the underlying design of these systems involves a great deal of arbitrariness that makes it difficult for educators and parents to understand performance.”
They added that “states with [school accountability] systems among the strongest include Massachusetts and Michigan – each uses subjects other than mathematics and ELA [English] for accountability purposes, uses non-test-based measures for priority and focus classifications, and measures proficiency using points along the distribution….”
Last year, a lobbying group took 2012 N.C. test scores and converted them to letter grades. Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Shamrock Gardens Elementary, a high-poverty school with great success at boosting student performance, got a D-minus with 58 percent of its students performing at grade level or above.
Inaccurate labels could abound in the A-F grading system, causing unwarranted angst. Those fears could destabilize good schools as some parents and students opt out rather than stay as schools continually improve.
The A-F grades have few upsides and lots of downsides. Lawmakers should reverse course.
Read the entire editorial by clicking here .