Smithfield: Opinion

Letter grades for schools don’t surprise

At schools like Cooper Elementary in Clayton and West Smithfield Elementary, more than half of students cannot read or do math on grade level, based on scores from year-end tests. Is it any wonder then that Cooper and West Smithfield, among other Johnston schools, earned D’s when the N.C. Department of Public Instruction graded schools on an A-F scale?

That’s one takeaway from the first-ever letter grades for N.C. schools: They should surprise no one who has been paying attention to the performance of Johnston County schools. Many schools here – and across North Carolina – struggle to help their students perform at grade level.

Another takeaway is that Johnston County – its school leaders, teachers, parents – must do more to help our children read and do math so that they’re ready to advance from one grade to the next.

We agree with those Johnston school leaders who say the state places too much emphasis on year-end test scores and not enough emphasis on how much a student grows academically from the start of the school year to the end. But unless North Carolina is prepared to fundamentally restructure its schools, then year-end test scores must continue to carry more weight than academic growth. That’s because year-end test scores determine whether a student will earn promotion from his current grade to the next.

In North Carolina, students advance from first grade to second, from second to third, from third to fourth and so on. Perhaps it would be preferable if a second-grader who grew just six months academically in one year earned promotion to grade 2.6. But that’s not the way North Carolina nor any other state structures its schools. So it’s only logical then that North Carolina grade its schools based on whether students end one year ready for the next.

Based on that measurement, many Johnston County schools are falling short; the letter grades just underscore that long-known fact. But the grades will serve a purpose if they spur schools – their leaders, teachers and parents – to help more students earn promotion at the end of school years to come.