Wake schools criticize state GOP education measures

Board members foresee humiliation and little value

khui@newsobserver.comJanuary 10, 2013 


Wake County School Board members Jim Martin, left, Susan Evans, left center, Superintendent Tony Tata, right center, and Board member Debra Goldman discuss the new student assignment plan as the group meets for a work session at the school system headquarters on Dillard Dr. in Cary, N.C. on March 6, 2012.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com

— Education reforms passed last year by the Republican-led state legislature that would issue a letter grade to every school and end social promotion are drawing complaints from the state’s largest school system.

Wake County school board members said Thursday that issuing an A through F grade will humiliate schools and won’t have much value. School leaders also say that now requiring districts to hold summer reading camps for third-grade students who fail the state reading exam is an unfunded mandate.

These complaints from the 150,000-student school system, which is led by a Democratic board majority, could signal ongoing tensions between Wake and a Republican-controlled state government looking to make more education changes.

“This is frustrating,” said school board member Jim Martin, a Democrat. “This is written by people who don’t have to make this work.”

The changes were in a bill introduced last April by state Senate leader Phil Berger. Elements of the bill, modeled after programs used in Florida, were incorporated into the state budget adopted in July.

Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for Berger, said many of the ideas in the final package came from feedback from teachers, principals, superintendents and school board members from across the state.

“It is not surprising that the Wake County school board is once again shirking their responsibility – this time on being held accountable for educating their students,” Auth said. “Their statements make it clear they lack the courage needed to improve literacy, increase transparency and accountability, and achieve better results in the classroom.”

On Thursday, Wake school administrators gave a school board committee an update on the changes.

The grade for each school will be based on factors such as test scores and graduation rates.

School leaders are worried that this year’s new tests will result in lower scores that would depress the school grades. With the grades coming out in October, school administrators said, they’ll need to begin in the spring explaining the new system to parents.

“We’ve got to really work to tell parents that this composite score doesn’t really tell them a lot,” said board member Susan Evans, a Democrat.

Board Chairman Keith Sutton, a Democrat, said he’s worried that the letter grade could cast a negative image on some schools.

‘A bad idea’

Martin called the grading system an attempt to subject schools to public ridicule. He suggested Wake issue multiple grades for each school.

“Our intent is not public humiliation,” Martin said. “The grading, I think, is a bad idea, but we have to work with it. Anyone who gives grades knows we don’t just give one grade.”

Board members and administrators also raised concerns about the third-grade change.

Beginning next school year, third-grade students who don’t pass the state reading test will have to take a one-month summer camp. If students fail the retest, they can take an accelerated half-year course to see whether they’re ready for the fourth grade.

Exemptions can be used to promote students who don’t pass the exam.

School leaders pointed out how more than 2,000 Wake third-graders could be held back, that local districts would have to pay for the summer camps, and that it would be hard to hold the camps for some year-round students who don’t have month-long summer breaks.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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