Keeping the generous scoring scale used to calculate new A through F school grades is gaining quick approval in the state legislature, with lawmakers pushing the change saying it will help year-to-year comparisons of school performance.
A bill that will keep the 15-point grading scale easily cleared a House committee Tuesday, where committee Chairwoman Linda Johnson, a Kannapolis Republican, said the hope is to have it go to a full vote of the House before the end of this week. An identical bill has been filed in the Senate.
But a move for deeper changes in the grading formula faces a far rockier road.
Grades released for the first time this year showed a strong correlation between wealth and school performance. Schools receiving D’s and F’s were more likely to have high concentrations of students from low-wealth families. The 15-point scale, where a score of 85-100 was an A, and 39 or below was an F, was supposed to last only for the first grading year. The next school grades, expected in late summer, were to be based on a 10-point scale.
But the move to keep the more forgiving scale started early. State Superintendent for Public Instruction June Atkinson said when the first batch of grades were released in February that she hoped the legislature would keep the 15-point scale.
“You have to have consistency over time to be able to see any trend lines as far as improvement in student achievement and growth,” she said Tuesday.
Legislators echoed the view that keeping the yard stick steady would gauge improvements over time.
The current method resulted in about 40 percent of schools getting C’s. If the 10-point scale had been used this year, 19 percent would have received C’s, and more than 70 percent of the state’s would have been labeled with D’s or F’s.
In Wake, 86 of 166 schools received an A or B, 61 schools got a C, and 9 received a D.
When the grades were released, Charotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Ann Clark said the district accepted the grades its schools were given, though she noted it did not always describe positive changes in chronically low-performing schools.
The district is currently backing legislation that would change the ratio of how grades are determined to give equal weight to student proficiency and growth. That would give higher grades to schools where test scores are improving but whose students are still below grade level.
“That would give parents and families a more accurate picture of how their school is performing,” said Jonathan Sink, the CMS associate general counsel. “Our board thinks that growth is just as important as student proficiency, because that’s what parents have told us.”
Some House members want to change the grading formula, which for elementary and middle schools is based 80 percent on standardized test scores and 20 percent on student growth, or how much students learn in a year. But Senate Republicans are so far resisting those suggestions.
Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat, said the formula should change so that growth accounts for half the score. Other states don’t put as much weight on test scores when calculating school grades, he said. Florida, which began the practice of giving schools A to F grades, changed its formula over time. Now, test scores account for half of Florida schools’ grades, with learning progress for all students accounting for 25 percent and progress for the lowest performing students accounting for 25 percent.
An N.C. House bill backed by Democrats would swing the ratio even further, to 80 percent growth and 20 percent test performance.
Rep. Graig Meyer, a Hillsborough Democrat, said he’s preparing a separate bill that would change the formula to 40 percent performance, 20 percent growth, 20 percent growth of lowest performing students, and 20 percent other factors decided by the State Board of Education.
The broader formula would “be more reflective” of what teachers and schools do,” Meyer said.
Though he sounded sympathetic to the idea of giving greater weight to growth, Sen. Jerry Tillman, one of the leaders on education policy, said the Senate wants to keep conditions stable for two or three years.
“We need to keep it for comparative purposes,” the Archdale Republican said. Andrew Dunn of The Charlotte Observer contributed.