Letters to the Editor

June Atkinson: School grades just one step in improving public schools

Regarding the state’s first round of A-F School Performance Grades released last week:.

These grades provide a quick look at school quality across our state, but looking at the grades is just a first step. Look deeper and we will see interesting trends that verify what many of us have known for years. Teachers are doing a good job. Many teachers are doing an outstanding job.

With approximately 70 percent of our schools showing academic growth at the expected or higher level, we see the value that teachers are bringing to each school day. With a grading formula that heavily values performance and under-values growth, it is hard for schools to earn high grades if their students are behind their peers in preparedness and performance. That is why I would like to see a grading model that values growth and performance equally.

North Carolina has shown a commitment to public school accountability for at least the past 20 years. The new School Performance Grades are the latest chapter. So what have we learned over the years when it comes to improving student achievement, especially in schools serving students in poverty?

• Teacher continuity matters. A high teacher turnover rate is damaging. Ongoing professional development is an important factor in retaining quality educators.

• When more students have access to quality preschool, we are more successful in closing gaps and reducing the need for exceptional children’s services.

• We will need a different school calendar if we are to effectively address the summer loss of reading and math achievement. Holding reading camps for third-graders is a step in the right direction. I’m grateful to the General Assembly for funding camps for third-graders, but this effort needs to be expanded to serve kindergarten, first- and second-grade students as well.

• A coherent, planned and individualized system of assistance is what is needed to turn around struggling schools. A little help here and little help there will not get the job done. There are schools that have many low-income students and still earned A’s, B’s and C’s. These schools tend to be themed schools, early colleges and schools with smaller, specialized learning environments.

• All students need a support system that addresses physical and emotional needs. All children can be successful. Some children need more help and more support.

All of North Carolina will suffer, not just the children, if we keep grading and talking without taking action.

June Atkinson

State Superintendent of Public Instruction


The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the issue.