Eight new school quality indicators could be added to state’s A-F grading system
Experts say current system portrays many NC schools inaccurately and unfairly
State Superintendent Catherine Truitt says the state needs to alter its A_F grading system for public schools. (File photo)
A five-year graduation rate, school climate, and post-secondary outcomes are among the eight indicators North Carolina could soon use to determine school quality, state education leaders said Tuesday.
The indicators would likely serve as additions to the A-F school performance model that is based mostly on students’ standardized test scores. Eighty percent of a school’s letter grade is currently based on test scores and 20% on growth, which reflects the amount students progress academically from one year to the next.
The A-F model has been controversial. Critics have argued since the system became law as part of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s 2013 “Excellent Schools Act,” that it paints an inaccurate and unfair picture of the teaching and learning occurring in North Carolina’s schools. The letter grades are also very influential as they are often used by parents to make big decisions such as where to buy homes and where to enroll their children in school.
“There is a general pervasive feeling for pretty much everyone who works in public education that our current accountability and testing model … is not sufficient for defining school quality and student success,” State Superintendent Catherine Truitt told members of the House K-12 Education Committee.
State Department of Public Instruction (DPI) officials told the committee that the current model produces “substantially more D and F schools” than states that use similar accountability models even though the North Carolina’s students score just as well or better on national assessments such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
Accountability data for the 2021-22 school year show that 46% of the state’s elementary schools were rated D or F. Meanwhile, 52% of middle schools and 23% of high schools were D or F schools.
An advisory group asked to study North Carolina’s school accountability model and to make recommendations for improvement compared it and the state’s NAEP scores to those of five other states.
North Carolina’s 2019 NAEP scores ranked above the national average in all tested subjects and grades; the state’s 2022 NAEP scores were higher than the national average in all tested grades and subjects except for Grade 8 reading, DPI officials said.
“None of the results place North Carolina last among the six states reviewed which would be expected given North Carolina has substantially more D and F schools than the other states,” the advisory group’s report said.
The states compared by the advisory group included Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
Michael Maher, deputy state superintendent, said North Carolina’s accountability model is “heavily influenced and driven” by the federal model.
“At this time, the U.S. Department of Education is really driving the ship in North Carolina when it comes to school performance and school performance grades and our work over the last nine months has made it really clear that it’s time for North Carolina to create a model that reflects the values of North Carolina,” Maher said.
He noted that the current accountability model has been used for a generation of students.
“Our students who first came into this model are now graduating from high school,” Maher said. “We have a generational opportunity to engage in this work once again to redefine what school performance looks like, what a quality education in North Carolina looks like.”
Here are some of the indicators the advisory group will continue to study:
- Five-year cohort graduation rate: the percentage of students who fulfill graduation requirements within five years of entering Grade 9
- Chronic absenteeism: the percentage of students who exceed a specified number of absences deemed to be chronic
- Improvement in student group performance: measures of subgroup performance as defined by growth targets and actual outcomes
- Postsecondary Inputs:
Elementary – Percentage of students who participate in a career exploration activity
Middle – Percentage of students who have a career development plan
High school – Percentage of students who fulfill at least one of a defined list of postsecondary preparation programs/classes/certifications
- Postsecondary Outcomes: Percentage of graduates who either have confirmed acceptance or enrollment in a postsecondary institution, enlistment in the military, or will be employed
- Extra/Intra Curricular: Percentage of students who participate in at least one extracurricular or intra-curricular activity
- Durable Skills: Informed by the competencies in the Portrait of a Graduate initiative
- School Climate: Possibly a student, teacher and parent survey instrument. Truitt said the current model does not accurately define school quality.
Rep. David Willis, a Union County Republican, said he is concerned that school discipline is not a proposed indicator.
“Discipline has been one of the biggest issues we’ve seen in talking to children, talking to parent and teachers and principals across the state,” Willis said.
Truitt said she has grown increasingly concerned about school discipline after reviewing the state’s most recent Consolidated Data Report on the issue.
The state superintendent said that one-third of all of the state’s high school students are chronically absent for school, meaning they have missed at least 10% of the school year.
The attendance problem leads to bad behavior, Truitt said.
“That’s a huge number of students,” Truitt said. “And so, when they do come back to school, and they don’t know what’s going on, that leads to stress, which leads to acting out, which leads to discipline problems and suspensions.”
Adding school climate as an indicator to the school performance model is one way to hold them accountable for student discipline, she said.
Truitt told the House committee that DPI would have a “shovel ready” accountability model prepared in time for the legislative short session in February.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.