Next week, the Department of Public Instruction will release for the first time letter grades for each school in North Carolina. The letter grades will largely represent how well a school’s students performed on standardized tests at one given time (that will be 80 percent of the grade), and, to a lesser degree, how much students’ performance on those tests has improved over time (20 percent of the grade).
When the A-F school grades website goes live (it will be accessible at www.ncpublicschools.org/src on February 5), you can view any school’s letter grade as well as a detailed explanation of how the grade was calculated.
This is a screen shot (built with dummy data by staff at DPI) of how the grades will appear.
If you’re wondering why North Carolina has joined 15 other states on the A-F school grades bandwagon, you can thank Senate leader Phil Berger, who began championing this legislation back in 2011. And you can also thank former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who pioneered A-F school grades in the late 1990s.
Bush’s original A-F school grading model didn’t take into account school growth over time. Realizing that few schools could achieve high grades with that formula, Bush changed gears in 2002 to factor in growth – and with that change, grades for many schools ticked up.
Berger’s original legislation also didn’t account for growth. But after an outcry from the K-12 community, last year a legislative fix introduced the 80/20 model. Instead of grading schools solely on the basis of how its students fare on one given day on a standardized test, now some of that letter grade accounts for how a school works with students over time to help them improve.
But some say that tinkering of the formula is not enough, and that the A-F school grading system puts schools that serve minority and low-income students, who typically don’t perform as well on standardized assessments, at a big disadvantage.
John Hood of the John Pope Foundation, who is a proponent of school privatization and accountability, said the 80/20 formula isn’t good.
“The 80-20 percent split is debatable and probably unwise, and we should change it,” said Hood, who added that a 50-50 split would be more reasonable.
Winston-Salem/Forsyth schools have taken matters into their own hands.
One week ahead of the state’s A-F school grades release, Winston-Salem/Forsyth released performance grades for each of their schools. Their formula takes the state grade and bumps it up one letter grade for schools that meet or exceed state growth expectations.
“We created our own performance grades because we think they more accurately capture the work our schools are doing,” Superintendent Beverly Emory said in a news release. “Using one grade to measure a school’s progress is limiting, and we wanted it to better reflect student growth from one year to the next and the challenges of poverty.”
At this point in time, if a school receives a letter grade from the state that is a D or F, there are no repercussions. But future legislation could change that.
In Ohio, students who are at “failing” schools for two years can receive taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools. And in New Orleans, schools identified as failing opened up the door for charter operators to take over those schools.
Stay tuned to N.C. Policy Watch next week for more updates on the state’s new A-F school grading system.