Almost everything you need to know about school grades
By Dr. Terry Stoops
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For the first time, the state has
assigned letter grades to each public school in North Carolina. The grades are designed to allow parents and
taxpayers to be better informed about the performance of public schools in
their areas and statewide.
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In 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly implemented
an A-F school grading system for all public schools in the state. Two years later, the N.C. Department of
Public Instruction (DPI) has released school performance grades for the first
time. These grades reflect the
performance of schools for the 2013-2014 academic year.
The state has been designating schools based on student
performance and academic growth for years.
In the past, they assigned labels such as "school of excellence,"
"school of distinction," "school of progress," "priority
school," and "low performing" to all schools in the state. The problem is that most parents had no idea
what those designations actually signified or the differences between
them. Letter grades solve that problem
by employing a scale familiar to all.
The grades are based on two measures -- student
achievement and academic growth. Eighty
percent of the grade is based on student achievement measures, such as test
scores, graduation rates, and advanced course participation (See Facts and
Stats below). The remaining 20 percent
of the grade takes academic growth into account. Schools that do not have academic growth data
are assigned a letter grade based solely on student achievement measures. Obviously, schools with no data will not
receive a grade.
For the first year of the program (and, at this point,
only the first year), N.C. DPI will use a 15-point scale. In other words, schools that obtain a score
of 85 to 100 will receive an A, schools that score between 70 and 84 will
receive a B, and so on. Starting next
year, the school grades will be based on a 10-point grading scale. Grades will likely drop for hundreds of
schools next year simply due to this change.
N.C. DPI did an excellent job of disseminating background
information and reporting the grades, which are available on the state's School
Report Card website. In addition to an overall grade, elementary
and middle schools will receive separate grades for reading and math. Schools that earn a D or F are required to
inform parents of that grade.
Even before they were released, there were a number of
teachers, school administrators, and so-called education activists who objected
to the underlying concept. If you ask
me, they "protest too much." Parents in other states agree
that school performance grades are a useful tool for evaluating a school, and
most are aware that it is not the only way to determine school quality.
In addition, school superintendents warned parents that
the school grades "do not tell the whole story" about the state's
public schools. To a certain extent, they
are right and that will always be the case.
But that fact does not mean that the school performance grades are not
necessary. It simply means that, as they are currently designed, the grades may
not be a sufficient representation of schools' quality or performance.
If stakeholders desire a more nuanced grading system, then
education officials should work with state legislators to add variables,
include qualitative descriptors, or alter the student achievement and academic
growth percentages to address their specific concerns. There is already some positive movement in
that direction. Senator Josh Stein
recently introduced Senate
Bill 30, a bill that would make academic growth account for 60 percent of
the grade calculation. And we can learn a lot about best practices from states
like Florida, which has had a school performance grade system in place since
1999. In the end, all involved should
remain focused on one laudable goal -- maintaining a system of transparency and
accountability for North Carolina's public schools that is straightforward,
fair, accurate, and widely accessible.
Interestingly, the school performance grades are pretty
evenly distributed, although they do not quite correspond to a normal
distribution. Just over 1,000 schools
earned a C. Additionally, 582 earned a B
and 561 earned a D. At both ends of the
spectrum, the state has 132 A schools and 146 F schools.
Compared to district schools, a higher percentage of
charter schools earned an A or B.
Overall, 5.1 percent of district schools earned an A, compared to 11.2
percent of charter schools. In addition,
23.7 of district schools earned a B, which was considerably lower than the 29.6
percent of charter school Bs. Unfortunately,
a higher percentage of charter schools received an F this year.
So, where is the best school in the state? According to the school performance grades,
the best school in the state is in Burke County. Burke Middle College was the only school in
the state to score a 99. A few schools
were not far behind. Challenger Early College
High (Catawba), Cato Middle College High (Charlotte-Mecklenburg), Isaac Bear
High (New Hanover), and Raleigh Charter High School (Wake) scored 98s. High
schools are overrepresented at the top because of the type of variables used to
determine their grades (revisit Facts and Stats below).
Pundits, reporters, and elected officials will be slicing
and dicing the data for weeks. Expect
the same from yours truly.
Facts and Stats
The following variables were included in the school grade
- EOG Mathematics
- EOG ELA/Reading
- EOG Science
- Math I (when applicable)
- Biology (when applicable)
- Math I
- English II
- The ACT
- Math Course Rigor
- ACT WorkKeys
- Graduation Rate
Acronym of the
SPG -- School Performance Grade
Quote of the Week
"As a part of the annual 'report card' for each local
school administrative unit, the State Board shall award, in accordance with
G.S. 115C-83.15, an overall numerical school achievement, growth, and
performance score on a scale of zero to 100 and a corresponding performance
letter grade of A, B, C, D, or F earned by each school within the local school
administrative unit. The school performance score and grade shall reflect student
performance on annual subject-specific assessments, college and workplace readiness
measures, and graduation rates."
- N.C. General Statute 115C-12(9)c1
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