This week, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education released the state’s first school letter grade system, which uses an “A” through “F” scoring designation based on student proficiency and growth. This model for school grades has been adopted across many states, and each uses diverse methods for calculating the grades. Most models rely on formulas based heavily on student academic achievement data.
I was a school administrator in Florida in 1999, and I remember well when this system was adopted there. When the scores were first released, teachers, the public, the media and ultimately the parents expressed a wide array of emotions, but assigning school grades, whether you agreed with the policy or not, was a process that forced greater dialogue about effective and high-quality schools for students.
North Carolina’s letter grade system will likely trigger a similar reaction. There will be some initial shock waves of concern, followed by a gradual transition into dialogue about what should be done to help improve schools for the benefit of all students.
Though the discussion is still taking shape in North Carolina, there have been some common characteristics identified across states, one being the direct connection between student poverty rates and those schools receiving a “D” or “F” label.
A Southern Education Foundation report shows a majority of our students live in low-income homes nationwide. North Carolina outpaces the nation by 2 percent with more than 53 percent of our students living in low-income homes. The letter grades assigned to public schools across North Carolina, where almost 30 percent were designated with a “D” or “F,” show a clear correlation between poverty and student proficiency and growth. In fact, 100 percent of the “F” schools have more than 50 percent of their students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
We know that poverty is not an impediment to learning. However, other factors related to poverty can serve as roadblocks to long-term achievement.
A promising practice called Integrated Student Supports shows that having professionals coordinate and deliver targeted services to identified students improves student and school outcomes by increasing attendance, modifying behavior and conduct and meeting basic needs. These professionals support schools and teachers while addressing family circumstances that can distract students from fully engaging in learning. Interventions can range from offering traditional tutoring and mentoring to connecting families to parent education, counseling, food banks or employment assistance.
By using proven practices like Integrated Student Supports, North Carolina has an amazing opportunity to be a national leader in adopting a comprehensive approach focused on driving student achievement. This approach diminishes the factors that contribute to generational poverty and often result in students dropping out of school. Communities In Schools of North Carolina and the statewide network of CIS affiliates comprise one of the nation’s largest providers of Integrated Student Supports. By mobilizing local communities and leveraging resources into schools to provide Integrated Student Supports, our organization is increasing attendance, improving behavior and growing student promotion and graduation rates.
The conversation about what it means to have effective and high-quality schools for students in North Carolina will continue to evolve. I hope that this dialogue will focus on models that support great teachers and school leaders, while also embracing proven interventions that enhance student outcomes. Research confirms that Integrated Student Supports remove barriers that would typically diminish a student’s potential for graduating prepared for post-secondary education or a career.
As we reflect upon the grades of the schools across North Carolina, we must learn more about our schools, the resources that are in place to close gaps for students and how we as a community can contribute to the solution.
Dr. Eric Hall is president and CEO of Communities In Schools of North Carolina.