School board mulls stance on forthcoming school grades

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The public schools of North Carolina, like the students who attend them, will be assigned a letter grade based on a new set of standards in February.

Concerned about how the grades might reflect school success and how parents might respond, the New Hanover County Board of Education considered passing a resolution about the formula used to evaluate schools during a Jan. 6 meeting.

Every public school in the state will be assigned a letter grade, released Feb. 5, based largely on how students performed on end-of-grade and end-of-course assessments during the 2013-14 school year. Mandated by the Excellent Public Schools Act, passed in 2012 and updated in 2013, the new school grading system is one of many reforms intended to boost accountability — along with the elimination of teacher tenure, replaced with short-term contracts renewed according to job performance, included in the same law.

Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley said the new school grading system, like its predecessor The ABCs of Public Education, does not adequately capture the success of a school, in part because it focuses on test performance over growth, or what a child learns throughout the year.

“We have some students who come into kindergarten who are totally unprepared for school, and so they struggle to get school-ready. But if they stay with us for a certain amount of time, we can bring those students up to speed. So I’d like to see a greater emphasis on growth,” Markley said.

Board member Ed Higgins suggested a county resolution, if passed, request a more balanced consideration of student growth and performance.

Board member Tammy Covil questioned the need to pass a resolution about the grades and the formula used to determine them.

“Most people aren’t going to pay any attention to the letter grade,” Covil said. “The purpose of the legislation, flawed as it may be, was to inject some sort of accountability, and I understand that, but I’m not just not inspired to pass a resolution…”

Higgins said he expects parents to pay attention and act on the grades, especially if their child’s school stacks up unfavorably.

“A lot of people get upset if they find their school is not doing well. It doesn’t make a difference how well their child is doing. If the school is not doing well, they immediately want their child out of that school,” Higgins said.

Markley said he is concerned a school’s grade will reflect the socioeconomic status of its students, not the quality of the education it provides.

“It really does not give the schools an honest grade. I can take the grades and match them up against the socioeconomics of the school, and tell you what that school is going to get for a grade,” Markley said.

Markley said he would be more comfortable assigning grades to schools if the state took a fairer approach, like the one used to grade public schools in Florida.

“I just think the current model, as it’s constituted, is not a very good indicator of school quality. It’s more an indicator of school socioeconomics,” Markley said.

Markley was asked to compile information about the accountability model used in Florida public schools and report back to the board by the next meeting in February.

email miriah@luminanews.com

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