Education

Wake Supt. Jim Merrill downplays state’s new A through F grades

Wake County Schools Superintendent Jim Merrill, left,  and Wake County School Board Chair Christine Kushner take questions from reporters Wednesday at the North Raleigh Hilton, just before Merrill’s  annual State of the Schools speech.
Wake County Schools Superintendent Jim Merrill, left, and Wake County School Board Chair Christine Kushner take questions from reporters Wednesday at the North Raleigh Hilton, just before Merrill’s annual State of the Schools speech. hlynch@newsobserver.com

A day before new rankings of North Carolina’s schools are released, Wake County Superintendent Jim Merrill on Wednesday praised the state of education in the school system and said the public shouldn’t worry much about the state’s new performance grades.

During the State of the Schools event, Merrill pointed to the district progress reports for every school, data that he said shows how student achievement is increasing with more students graduating and doing well in college and life. He said the reports will be “much more meaningful” than the single A through F letter grade every public school will get on Thursday.

Wake’s progress reports, located at www.wcpss.net/schoolreportcards, include data on test results, teacher qualifications and teachers’ thoughts about their schools.

“Do we really think our parents are unable to process more information about their children than a single letter grade?” Merrill said during his speech at the North Raleigh Hilton. “We don’t believe that, which is why we’re releasing progress reports on our schools that we feel are not only logical and transparent but also detailed and credible.”

The performance grades are required under a new law that backers say will make it easy for parents to judge schools. Communities and schools have been planning for weeks to respond to disappointing grades sure to generate parent questions.

The grades are largely based on passing rates on state standardized tests with a small percentage for academic growth. School leaders around the state have called for the grading system to be revised or abolished.

Terry Stoops, director of education research studies for the John Locke Foundation, said the way the grades are calculated should be revised. But he said that the grades will ultimately be a better system for evaluating schools.

“The former school labels were difficult to understand and misleading so it makes sense to move to a grading system that everyone understands,” Stoops said in an interview.

Merrill pointed Wednesday to a list of accomplishments that he said showed the high quality of education in the state’s largest school system, including:











“This is not a perfect school district,” Merrill said. “But it is evident from this data that we’re also a very, very strong school system. It is a system with a strong foundation and some areas of strength that others actually envy.”

Looking forward, Merrill pointed to the school board’s recently adopted goal of having at least 95 percent of students graduating by 2020.

“Graduating 95 percent of students each year is possible,” he said. “It can be done and is absolutely the kind of goal this community should set for itself.”

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