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Virginia Governor signs into law repeal of A-F school grades

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed into law last Thursday a bill that repeals the state’s A-F school grading system – an accountability mechanism similar to North Carolina’s own new model that grades public schools largely on the basis of how students perform on standardized tests.

A Republican Senator, Virginia Rep. Richard Black, introduced the bill to repeal A-F school grades late last year because, he said, public schools receiving F grades would be unfairly stigmatized and such schools would find recruiting new teachers very difficult, according to Education Week.

Virginia’s A-F school grading system was enacted in 2013 by then-Gov. Bob McDonnell, but never put into place thanks to a two-year delay ordered by lawmakers.

In North Carolina the A-F school grading system, which has been assailed by critics as nothing more than a proxy for which schools serve high poverty student populations, now awards letter grades to every public school beginning with data from the 2013-14 school year.

Eighty percent of a school’s grade reflects how well students perform on standardized tests on one given day, referred to in shorthand as “performance;” 20 percent of the grade reflects how well a school helps its students progress on those tests over time—referred to in shorthand as “growth.”

Proponents of the accountability model say it’s a much-needed measure of transparency for the public.

An N.C. Policy Watch report surveyed how the A-F school grading model, which is the brain child of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, is faring in other states.

At least fifteen other states have implemented the so-called “Florida formula” that uses a letter grading system to purportedly bring greater transparency to how well schools are ensuring students’ academic success.

But in many cases, these school grades have raised concerns and questions about how effectively they improve public education, how fair it is to punish schools that serve disadvantaged communities, and the potential for politicians to game the system for their own benefit.

In Indiana, the state’s former schools superintendent, Tony Bennett, was found to have manipulated the A-F school grading system to benefit one of his political donors, who ran a public charter school that was in danger of receiving a low grade.

Two bills have already been filed by North Carolina lawmakers this session to modify the A-F school grading system.

Rep. Dennis Riddell (R-Alamance) filed a bill that would award schools with two separate letter grades – one for performance, and one for growth.

Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake) filed a bill that would change how grades are awarded to schools, placing a heavier emphasis on a school’s ability to help its students grow over time on standardized test performance, rather than a simple snapshot of test results.

On his Facebook page, Stein called the current A-F grading system broken and that it will serve to weaken North Carolina’s public schools.

“Under current law, a school can dramatically improve student learning, even imparting two grades worth of knowledge in a single year. But if the students started the year three years behind, the law considers that school a failure because the students didn’t test at grade level,” Stein said.

“That’s ridiculous. We should praise a school that is able to move students forward, especially those who start out behind grade level,” Stein said.

Stay tuned to N.C. Policy Watch for more updates on legislation to modify or repeal A-F school grades as the session continues.

 

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