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N&O fact-checkers critique one argument for achievement school districts

School gradesAs we’ve reported here in the past, conservative groups in North Carolina are mobilized behind achievement school districts, be it a relatively unknown Oklahoma outfit with ties to ALEC or more well-known right-wing organizations like Americans for Prosperity (AFP).

This weekend, fact-checkers at The News & Observer took the time to examine at least one claim from the latter group, which issued a statement earlier this month claiming that at least 500 schools in North Carolina were “failing.”

With Senate lawmakers expected to soon consider House Bill 1080—which would legalize the controversial, charter school takeover of some low-performing schools in North Carolina—the messaging is ramping up.

The newspaper’s fact-check dubbed the statement from AFP State Director Donald Bryson to be “half-true,” describing the group’s claim as an exaggeration.

From the N&O:

The state has given out school grades since the 2013-14 school year. Last year, 146 schools received Fs.

That’s a far cry from 500, so we asked Bryson where his number came from. He said there are 547 low-performing schools, according to a state law that defines the term.

However, “low-performing” is not the same as “failing.” The law that Bryson cited includes F schools as well as D schools. And as any slacker can tell you, Ds get degrees.

For Bryson to count D schools as failing seems to be self-evidently wrong.

The fact-check also comes with a worthwhile examination of North Carolina’s highly controversial school grading system, which has been criticized as stigmatizing low-performing schools in the state.

Many education advocates say the school grading system, which is key to the AFP’s argument, is an inaccurate assessment of whether schools are failing because just 20 percent of the score is determined based on whether a school meets its student growth goals.

By focusing mostly on student test scores, rather than growth, schools are not rewarded for improving performance in pupils who arrived at school already trailing their peers.

A Senate-backed version of the budget retains that school performance system, but a House version would factor in test scores and growth equally.

The N&O story goes on:

The “low-performing” metric that Bryson cited includes all D and F schools that didn’t meet their growth goals, as well as those that met their growth goals. Those that exceeded their growth goals are not considered low-performing.

By equating “low-performing” with “failing,” Bryson’s claim considers a school to be failing if its average student is a D student whose scores are improving as much as the state expects. A reasonable person wouldn’t say that student is failing. He’s below average, but above the threshold for failure and on track for improvement.

And nearly half of the schools Bryson is talking about, 225 of them, are in that category.

We’ll stay tuned to this important legislation, and the debate surrounding it, as House Bill 1080 makes its way through the N.C. General Assembly.

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