Cabarrus County Schools’ Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Dr. Jason VanHeukelum, is not happy with the state’s new A-F school grading system.
“More than 90 percent of our teachers met or exceeded growth targets in 2013—yet 20 percent of our schools received Ds,” said VanHeukelum in an interview with N.C. Policy Watch. “Those figures just don’t match up.”
And the two schools in his district that did receive As? They are a magnet school and an early college high school.
“They’re selective programs,” said VanHeukelum of the A schools. “You have to apply to get in and you’re typically already on grade level. This metric of school grades that is so tightly tied to poverty—it’s hard to know what to do with it.”
On Thursday, North Carolina unveiled A-F letter grades for its approximately 2,500 schools, and the results were predictable, yet startling: the vast majority of schools serving poor students all received Ds or Fs, while schools in wealthier areas fared better.
Reaction from the education community has been by and large negative: the A-F school grading mechanism, which heavily favors students’ performance on standardized tests on a given day rather than improvement made over time, is a flawed formula, according to many.
VanHeukelum wrote a scathing review of the A-F grading system earlier this week.
While we welcome accountability for student achievement, I believe [the A-F school grading system] is an ill-conceived measure that is determined more by poverty than by the actual work of teachers and administrators in our schools.
In his editorial, which also appeared in the local newspaper, VanHeukelum connected the dots between poverty and student achievement, citing academic research that documents the link between socioeconomic status and student readiness for school.
In the wake of the A-F school grades’ unveiling, VanHeukelum said that school officials in his district are doing their best to manage public expectations.
“With our schools that have Cs and Ds, they [school administrators] are trying to assure their teachers and parents that they are doing good work — so they are trying to come up with other metrics to assure them,” said VanHeukelum.
“[The school grade] is a hard message to counteract. If I read in the paper that my school is a D school, and then my principal tells me we’re doing good things, I’m gonna be skeptical.”
VanHeukelum hopes that community members won’t just pick up and flee low performing schools for what appear to be better ones based on the A-F school grades, because there is often really good work and progress happening at schools that have been labeled C or D.
“I’m hopeful that our community recognizes that you’re not grading the work of the school, you’re grading the kids that come to that school—you’re grading poverty.”