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Advocates warn budget’s K-12 grading reforms could harm schools, communities

Republican-authored state budget reforms to North Carolina’s school performance grading system have the potential to harm local schools and their communities, public education advocates are warning this week.

As Policy Watch reported on Tuesday, a controversial budget provision tucked into the state legislature’s now approved spending deal (page 68 of the bill) will, beginning in 2019-2020, convert the school grading system to a more stringent 10-point scale—rather than the current 15-point scale—and retain a much-maligned grading formula derived mostly by performance scores and not growth.

Currently, 80 percent of the grade is determined by performance, and 20 percent is determined by growth.

This week, Katherine Joyce, executive director of the N.C. Association of School Administrators (NCASA), which lobbies for districts’ central office leaders across the state, said K-12 leaders hope lawmakers will consider a formula that’s closer to a 50/50 split.

“If you’re moving children and you’re growing as far as your achievement, then good things are happening in that school,” said Joyce. “We think that should count for more.”

Meanwhile, the 10-point scale is likely to shift grades for a number of schools. Current law allows for a score of 85 to count as an “A.” However, the new grading system approved by the legislature sets the bar for an “A” at 90 or above.

“Suddenly a school is going to look like it’s performing a lot worse from one year to the next,” said Joyce. “That would be concerning to communities, to  parents, to businesses. It would negatively impact economic development. There’s nothing new happening at the school. It’s just a matter of how the state is grading.”

An earlier House version of the budget sought to maintain the 15-point scale and established separate grades for performance and growth, but it’s the Senate system that emerged from the legislature’s conference committee negotiations this week, much to the chagrin of school and district advocates.

While Joyce complimented a handful of provisions in the final legislative budget—including a boost in the funding cap for students with disabilities and more than $35 million in funding for principal and assistant principal raises—the association continued to push an overhaul of a grading system that they say unfairly stigmatizes struggling schools that are making gains.

The N.C. School Boards Association, which advocates for local boards of education at the legislature, criticized the reforms as well.

Leanne Winner is director of governmental relations for the NCSBA.

“The public education community has been asking for years for a more equal reflection of growth that we think paints a more accurate picture of what is actually going on in those schools,” Winner said. “If a child comes in two or three grades below their current grade level and makes a year and a half or two years worth of growth but still may not be at grade level, that is a yeoman’s amount of work for that teacher to accomplish.”

House lawmakers approved the budget for the third time Thursday, and it’s now bound for the desk of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who’s been openly critical of the spending plan.

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