JAMES: The rest of the story on School Performance Grades

School poverty

The School Performance Grades, the annual A-F grades that each school receives, has been  released for North Carolina. All North Carolina public schools, including charters, have received A-F performance grades since 2013 when the NC General Assembly passed the Excellent Public Schools Act as part IX of its Appropriations Act of 2013.

A – F School Performance Grades are based on:

  • 80% of the weight of the grade is based on test results (end-of-grade, end-of-course, graduation rate, college/workplace readiness measures)
  • 20% of the weight of the grade is based on school growth as measured by SAS EVAAS (Education Value-Added Assessment System)
  • Grades & Cut Scores for 2013-14 that was set on a 15 point scale, have stayed the same through 2018-19
  • Schools that earn an A designation and do not have significant achievement and/or graduation gaps were designated as an A+NGschool starting in 2014-15
  • School grades continue to be strongly correlated to family income levels
  • Many critics and educators feel the A-F system points out poverty and has little to do with the work done inside public schools
  • Schools with greater poverty earned fewer A/A+NG’s and B’s and earned more C’s, D’s, and F’s than schools with less poverty
  • 8% of schools that received an F grade had 41% or more poverty
  • In schools with more than 81% low income students, 69% received a D or F grade. Only 1.7% of schools with less than 20% low income student populations received a D or F grade

Educators continue to ask for changes in the system to reflect more growth. Growth shows the impact of the teacher and school, however, it is only 20% of the formula. Proficiency is 80% of the school performance formula and has little to do with the teacher or school effect; it does and is directly correlated with the amount of free and reduced lunch or economically disadvantaged students a school has. Schools have little control over the poverty or lack thereof in the community. This data has been collected and analyzed for over 25 years. It is the same today as it was 25 years ago, no matter how great the teacher, administrator or school, the effects of poverty cannot be completely overcome. Its affects can, however, be lessened by great teachers, staff, administration and a well-defined plan. Even with this, teachers, staff, and administrators can make a difference. The point of this article is to show the grading system is flawed. Only 13 states are using this grading model as it negates all the great things going on that growth shows but proficiency does not.

The affect over 10 years still remains strong. To put it into a simpler perspective, an economically disadvantaged student starts school with a 5000-7000 word vocabulary. A non-economically disadvantaged peer starts school with a vocabulary of 30,000-35,000 words. It takes 2-3 years to close this gap with great teachers and support. This is why after-school programs, summer reading camps, and community support with reading is so important. It really does take a “village” to close this gap.

The North Carolina General Assembly has asked the state superintendent to come up with a better method of grading schools, one that accounts for the hard work and growth students achieve in lieu of one that measures poverty. Educators want to see equal weight given for proficiency and growth. Doing so would reflect more accurately student growth which at the end of the day is what all parents want — simply taking their child wherever they are academically and getting growth at least a year or more in each grade level (not the current system that assumes all children enter the education system at the same academic level).

Educators do not mind being held accountable, it just needs to be a system that is fair and equitable for all students and not one that simply shows where poverty exists.