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State exams delay CMS first-semester high school grades

Charlotte-Mecklenburg high school students can expect first-semester report cards riddled with “incompletes” as the state works on a grading scale for new state finals given in 30 courses.

Students across North Carolina are taking those exams this week. State officials say they can’t translate scores into letter grades until they get a good sample of results from across the state – work that probably won’t be done until late January or early February.

The state requires that the scores, which are used to rate teacher and school effectiveness, count for at least 20 percent of students’ grades.

“It has to count so that students take it seriously,” N.C. Chief Academic Officer Rebecca Garland said Tuesday.

On Monday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools notified principals that because the state’s “conversion table” for exams won’t be ready until after grades must be submitted, students in classes with those exams will get incompletes.

One exception: Seniors’ grades will be based on factors other than the exams so no one’s graduation will be delayed, CMS Chief Accountability Officer Frank Barnes reported. His memo said no one will lose athletic eligibility because of the incompletes, though ineligible athletes trying to restore their status can’t do so until they get a first-semester grade, Barnes’ memo says.

It’s up to each district to figure out how to handle the delayed conversion tables, said Tammy Howard, N.C. director of accountability. Some districts are creating their own scales, while others are waiting, she said.

The state’s final exams aren’t scored on the familiar 100-point scale, so it’s not as simple as using the traditional cutoffs. Garland said state staff will review results and look for “natural cuts” before sending out recommendations for turning the scores into letter grades. Districts can revise those scales, she said, but using the state exam as part of the final grade is mandatory.

Tiffany DiMatteo, an English teacher at Myers Park High, said the state’s “ridiculous” testing system is one reason she’s leaving at the end of the semester to teach in a Rock Hill charter school.

“These final exams are awful in the first place,” she said in an email. “The passages from the test last year – the only available preparatory material released by the state – are incredibly difficult and would be considered challenging in an AP-level course. ... It feels as though NC wants to prove that students and teachers are failing by providing a terrible test that is being poorly planned, administered, and scored.”

The grading system will be in place for spring exams. But Howard said this type of delay could happen again next winter, as the state revises its tests for 2014-15.

Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter: @anndosshelms
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