An issue brief released today by the Public School Forum of North Carolina says the current A-F School Performance Grading system only serves to label schools based on the family income  of the students served and does not provide support to help struggling schools improve.

In its brief, “A is for Affluent,” the Public School Forum notes that in the first year of school performance letter grades, out of 325 district and public charter schools statewide serving at least 85 percent low-income students—our state’s highest-poverty schools—none received an A, and only two received B’s. At the other end of the spectrum, out of 222 schools statewide serving less than 25 percent low-income students, none received an F and only one received a D. Nearly 90 percent of those schools received A’s or B’s.

“The current school grading system does little more than identify schools that serve students from low-income families,” said Keith Poston, President and Executive Director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina. “If the intent is to capture how well schools serve students, a better approach would be to place a much greater emphasis on student academic improvement year over year.”

At the start of this year, North Carolina was one of 15 states nationally and one of eight states in the Southeast to have adopted an A-F grading system. Many other states, including those with the longest-standing and best-regarded A-F systems, including Florida, place a greater emphasis than we do on growth while de-emphasizing achievement. The reason for this is simple: school achievement scores reflect single point-in-time test results, over which schools have far less control than growth, which is designed to measure the impact schools and teachers have on students’ academic progress.

“Why would we label a school a failure that improved students’ academic performance by multiple full years in a single school year? That’s exactly what can happen under the current system,” Poston said.

The Forum’s brief suggests three steps the General Assembly should take to improve the A-F School Performance Grading system:

  1. Adjust the formula by increasing the weight given to growth and adding factors research demonstrates lead to improved academic performance
  2. Analyze and publicize lessons learned from schools that are beating the odds by earning high grades while serving high percentages of low-income students.
  3. Target supports to the lowest-performing schools

The brief spotlights bills filed this session in the General Assembly. Bills in both chambers would keep last

year’s fifteen-point grading scale in place, changing current law, under which school grades beginning this school year would be based on a much stricter ten-point scale. Separate bills would improve the grading formula by increasing the weight placed on growth or adding other factors linked to improved academic performance.

In addition to making these changes, the Forum recommends learning what we can from schools that are succeeding in spite of the current grading formula’s systemic biases. In particular, it is worth examining school-level practices at schools that earned high grades in the current system while serving high percentages of low-income students.

At the other end of the performance spectrum, “The state should target increased flexibility and resources to schools with persistently low school grades,” according to Poston. “If we truly want to see these schools improve, why not immediately provide them with the flexibility to change their school calendar, shift start and end times, redesign teaching roles, and make changes to their budgets and curriculum, and provide resources to actually implement these changes?”

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 A is for Affluent

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