The much-praised, by Republicans anyway, idea of grading schools in North Carolina on a scale from A to F is a revealing and damaging waste of energy. The first round of grades showed what educators and concerned lawmakers already knew: Schools with larger percentages of lower-income students got poor grades and the most affluent schools got good grades.
A state House bill would improve the system somewhat, but the improvement would amount to taking the system from the first stage of a bad cold to the second stage with no relief in sight.
Crucial to whether the system is of any value is the formula whereby the grades are figured. Currently, 80 percent of a school’s grade is based on standardized text results and 20 percent on student growth, or how much students learn year over year. That percentage is upside down. The real job being done by a school is better measured with indicators of how much students are improving, not test scores.
A school with lower-achieving students that brings those students along deserves a good grade, but now if those students aren’t doing as well as others on tests, the school gets a bad grade, period.
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Joe Ableidinger of the Public School Forum urged in an essay on the opposite page that the formula be changed, noting that the current system’s formula could be changed to an A-F system ranking schools based on family income, and the results would be the same.
A House bill now under consideration would split the measuring standards to 50 percent on scores and 50 percent on growth. That’s not far enough, though it’s better than what exists now.
The problem with grading schools with a letter, the big problem, is that a bad grade stigmatizes schools where teachers may in fact be doing a great job pulling kids from disadvantaged backgrounds up the learning scale, but test scores remain low.
The system of measuring schools doesn’t need a minor adjustment. It needs an overhaul.