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Improving the formula behind A-F school grades: not gonna happen?

meyer

Rep. Graig Meyer
photo credit: North Carolina General Assembly

Lawmakers have filed several measures this spring that are intended to fix what they say is the design flaw in the way North Carolina’s new A-F school grades are calculated, including a bill filed last week by Rep. Graig Meyer and Rep. Paul Luebke that would change the formula for school grades so that they better reflect a school’s ability to help students grow in their academic performance over time and allow for other measures of quality to be reflected in the grades.

But Meyer says he doesn’t expect his bill to be heard in committee at all – and he figures none of the handful of proposals out there to fix A-F school grades is going anywhere.

“The Senate has indicated they won’t do anything this session to address fixing A-F school grades,” said Meyer.

The only thing lawmakers are willing to move on, said Meyer, is to keep the more generous grading scale in place a little longer.

The first set of school grades that came out earlier this year, based on data from the 2013-14 school year, were calculated based on a 15 point scale. Schools receiving As, for example, had to score between 85 and 100 points. Beginning with the 2014-15 school year, however, grades are scheduled to be calculated using a 10 point scale—but lawmakers are considering a measure to keep the 15 point scale in place another two years.

“It’s a simple way to get consistency over a three year period,” said Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a sponsor of the bill.

It’s also a way to avoid the likely scenario that a whole lot more schools would receive Ds and Fs by moving to the stricter scale right off the bat.

Critics have assailed North Carolina’s new A-F school grading system for its overemphasis on how students perform on standardized tests on a given day, rather than how students improve on those tests over time. The formula for assigning letter grades to schools has resulted in almost all Ds and Fs for schools serving high poverty student populations, while more schools that serve largely affluent families received higher grades.

Proponents of the A-F school grading system, which currently reflects student performance on a given day on standardized tests (80 percent of a letter grade) and, to a lesser degree, how students improve on those tests over time (20 percent of a letter grade) say it provides the public with a better understanding of how well schools are educating students.

But others say the measure fails to sufficiently account for the academic growth that good schools help students achieve and does not take into consideration the challenges that schools serving a high number of poor students face.

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, finding that these school grading models 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 addition to Rep. Meyer’s proposal, other measures filed aimed at fixing North Carolina’s A-F school grading formula include a bill that would provide schools with two separate letter grades, one reflecting students’ performance on standardized tests and another reflecting growth over time; a bill that would change the formula so that 40 percent of a school’s letter grade would reflect student performance, and 60 percent would reflect student growth; a bill that would change the formula to 20 percent performance, 80 percent growth; and a bill that would change the formula to a 50/50 split.

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