We don’t envy Johnston school board members or Superintendent Ed Croom. Soon they will have to explain to anxious, perhaps angry parents why their child’s school received an F grade from the state while another school in Johnston received an A.
Johnston school leaders are fretting about the soon-to-come letter grades partly because they say the grading formula places too much emphasis on test scores. In a story this past week, reporter Nash Dunn noted that 80 percent of a school’s grade will come from test scores; just 20 percent will come from how much students grow in their learning from the start of a school year to the end. Under that formula, Superintendent Croom expects a quarter of all Johnston schools to receive a failing grade of D or F.
We wouldn’t want to answer those parent phone calls either, and we agree that North Carolina places entirely too much emphasis on test scores; to us, what a student knows in fourth or eighth grade matters less than how he thinks. Which is to say a student might know that prices rise in tandem with wages, but can he or she explain why that is?
Still, test scores offer some indication of how well a school is doing in preparing its students for the next grade. So a letter grade based largely on test scores isn’t without value. Which is to say, if only 30 percent of third-graders at a school are reading at or above grade level, that’s a problem that needs addressing.
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Of course, the superintendent and his staff already know which schools perform well and which ones come up short on state-mandated testing. But they will forgive parents who can’t fathom how, in North Carolina, a school with a high test-passing rate can fail state expectations while a school with a low passing rate can exceed then.
A letter grade will paint a decidedly clearer picture for parents, and it will, we hope, prompt Johnston schools to redouble their efforts to help those schools that they already know need more attention.