Changes on the table for NC school performance grades

N.C. Rep. Tricia Cotham
N.C. Rep. Tricia Cotham

State legislators on both sides of the aisle want to make changes to the controversial system of assigning letter grades to all North Carolina schools.

But the scope of those changes is still a matter of debate, and it appears clear that school performance grades won’t be going away, according to three legislators who spoke at an event Friday hosted by the nonprofit MeckEd.

N.C. Rep. Tricia Cotham and Sen. Jeff Jackson, both Mecklenburg Democrats, and Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican, all spoke about their issues with the legislation that went into effect this school year.

THE BACKGROUND: Beginning this year, every school in North Carolina was assigned a letter grade between “A” and “F” to measure their performance. The grades are determined by a formula that takes into account both proficiency and student growth. Eighty percent of the grade is based on the percentage of students at grade level, while the other 20 percent is based on whether students are making progress each year.

In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, 41 percent of schools received an “A” or a “B,” on a 15-point grading scale. That means scores between 85 and 100 earned an “A,” 70 to 84 earned a “B,” and so on.

Next year, by law, the grading system will move to a 10-point scale. By that measure, more than half of CMS schools would have received “D” or failing grades.

WHAT HAVE CRITICS SAID? Schools with large percentages of low-income students tend to have few students at grade level. Jackson said Friday that the current grading system only denotes which schools are affluent and which are not. “All we did was label which schools have wealthy parents and which have not-wealthy parents,” he said.

Low-income school advocates have also said low grades threaten the progress they’re making in turning around school culture. The changing grading scale would almost certainly decrease grades across the board.

WHAT CHANGES ARE ON THE TABLE? A number of bills introduced this session would tweak the grade system.

Horn introduced a bill that would preserve the 15-point scale for another year. “At least, if we’ve got to do this, be consistent for a while,” he said.

Other bills would adjust the grading formula to give more weight to student growth. Some proposals would move the split to 50 percent growth, 50 percent proficiency. Others would flip it all the way to 80 percent growth, 20 percent proficiency.

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES THEY PASS? Horn said he feels his bill to keep the 15 point scale is likely to pass. All the others are much more uncertain.

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Twitter: @andrew_dunn