Under the Dome

NC bill delaying new school grading scale to get quick hearing

There’s some momentum for legislation that would give a two-year reprieve before a tougher standard is used for evaluating North Carolina’s public schools under the state’s controversial A-F letter grading system.

House Bill 358 was referred Thursday to the Education Committee, where it will presumably get quick approval at the next committee meeting on Tuesday. All three committee chairmen are among the bill’s primary sponsors.

The parallel Senate legislation, Senate Bill 450, was referred Thursday to the Rules and Operations Committee.

Both bills would keep in place the 15-point scale for determining school letter grades through the 2015-16 school year. Barring an unexpectedly massive jump in test passing rates, the planned switch to the 10-point scale this school year would result in most schools getting D or F marks.

Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican and a chairman of the House Education Committee, said the identical bills were filed Wednesday to speed up the approval process and to show that strong support exists in both houses. The primary sponsors of the Senate version include several chairs of the Education and Education Appropriations committees.

Horn denied that the purpose of the bill is to avoid reporting out a large number of schools with low grades. If the 10-point scale had been used for last year’s results, 70 percent of schools would have gotten Ds or Fs instead of the 70 percent that got As through Cs under the 15-point scale.

Horn said the purpose of keeping the 15-point scale is to see how well schools are doing over time.

“Let’s stay with one scale for the next couple of years so we have an opportunity to make a reasonable comparison,” Horn said. “Part of the purpose of testing and grading is to make year on year comparisons.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, filed House Bill 368 on Thursday to “improve the A-F grading system.” That bill would not delay the switch to the 10-point scale.

But Cotham’s bill would change how the grades are calculated. It would reverse the formula from 80 percent passing rate and 20 percent growth to 80 percent growth and 20 percent passing rate.