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DPI presents work to update school performance grades to lawmakers

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  • "In addition to including student proficiency and growth rates as we do now, we need to include more than just student testing that takes place one day of the year," Superintendent Catherine Truitt said of school performance grades.
  • DPI said North Carolina is performing much better than its school performance grades suggest.
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North Carolina public schools are performing better than the current school performance grades suggest, state Superintendent Catherine Truitt told state lawmakers at a House education committee meeting on Tuesday.

As EdNC has previously reported, it is no secret that state leaders think it’s time to reconsider the accountability model used to give schools performance grades across North Carolina. Currently, school grades are based on each school’s achievement score, weighted 80%, and on students’ academic growth, weighted 20%.

On Tuesday, Truitt presented the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) work toward redesigning the accountability model, including new indicators unveiled in January.

“While a lot of states are running away from student accountability and school accountability, we are running toward accountability,” Truitt told lawmakers. “I want to be very clear that in addition to including student proficiency and growth rates as we do now, we need to include more than just student testing that takes place one day of the year – which largely is what determines what a school’s letter grade is.”

Last fall, DPI convened a working group to redesign the accountability model. That work included input from a survey by EdNC. After unveiling eight possible new indicators in January, working groups began meeting in May to refine each indicator. Those groups will meet through Oct. 31.

DPI is planning to report to lawmakers on suggested changes to the school evaluation model next February, based on pending legislation.

DPI will share the policy proposal with the State Board of Education before it shares the proposal with lawmakers. The goal is to then pilot the indicators during the 2024-25 school year.

The eight proposed indicators are broken into academic indicators and school quality indicators.

DPI emphasized that the new model is meant to hold schools more accountable, not less. By including more indicators in a school’s score, DPI said school accountability scores will provide a fuller picture of school performance.

“Any model that we would bring forward would continue to include growth and proficiency,” Dr. Michael Maher, deputy state superintendent, said on Tuesday. “What we have the opportunity to do is to actually create a state model, and pull out the federal requirements, which would include subgroup performance and growth and proficiency rates.”

Here are the definitions of the four academic indicators, per DPI’s presentation. You can view the full presentation here.

  • Extended high school graduation rate: the percentage of students who graduate within five years (adjusted cohort graduation rate).
  • Improving student group performance: increase in student group achievement from previous year, with definition to be determined with input from working group.
  • Postsecondary outcomes – Employed, enlisted, enrolled: the percentage of graduates who either have confirmed acceptance (defining if this means enrollment) in a postsecondary institution, enlistment in the military, or employed (defining if this means employability).
  • Postsecondary preparation inputs: elementary school – the percentage of students who participate in a career exploration activity; middle school – percentage of students who have a career development plan; high school – percentage of students who fulfill potentially at least one of a defined list of post-secondary preparation programs/classes/certifications.

Here are the definitions of the four school quality indicators:

  • Extra/intra curricular activities: the percentage of students who participate in extracurricular or intra-curricular activities.
  • Durable skills: identified qualities cited in Portrait of a Graduate.
  • Chronic student absenteeism: the percentage of student whose absences exceed 10% of days in membership.
  • School climate: percentage of students and teachers who affirm the qualities of a school related to engagement and environment.
Screenshot from DPI’s presentation to lawmakers.

‘Accountability model drives what gets done in a school’

Current school performance grades were first reported in February 2015 based on 2013-14 school year data, according to DPI’s presentation.

School grades are based on achievement through test scores (80%) and growth (20%) and are assigned as follows:

  • A = 100–85
  • B = 84–70
  • C = 69–55
  • D = 54–40
  • F = 39 and below

According to DPI data, 46.5% of elementary schools were “D and F schools” in 2021-22. More than half of middle schools (52%) and 23% of high schools were during the same time period. K-8 school grades are limited to test score results, contributing to the higher number of low-performing schools.

Based on school performance grades alone, North Carolina schools are performing worse than several other states, DPI said.

Here’s a look at North Carolina’s school performance grades in 2021-22, compared with scores in Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

However, if you look at National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores in each state, DPI said North Carolina is performing much better than its school performance grades suggest. Here is a look at those comparisons:

Truitt and Maher said the disproportionately large numbers of D and F schools in North Carolina shows the need for an updated model.

There was bipartisan support for DPI’s work among House education committee members.

Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, wanted to ensure school grades would still “separate the scholastic from the social.” Maher said they would.

Rep. David Willis, R-Union, asked about how school discipline fits into this work, referring to DPI data from March that reflected a dramatic increase in crime and violence in 2021-22 compared to 2020-21. While data was low in 2020-21 due to remote learning, rates jumped up considerably in 2021-22, even from pre-pandemic levels.

In 2021-22, there were 11,170 total acts of crime and violence, up from 7,158 in 2019-20, pre-COVID-19, according to the annual Consolidated Data Report. The short-term suspension and expulsion rates were particularly high when it came to Black and American Indian students, and students of two or more races – a discretion that State Board of Education members have previously discussed in regards to equitable student discipline practices.

On Tuesday, Truitt suggested chronic absenteeism – when students miss more than 10% of the school year – was leading to some of the discipline issues at high schools. Working to mitigate chronic absenteeism is one of the possible new indicators, which Truitt will urge more schools and principals to work toward combatting.

“When (students) do come back to school and they don’t know what’s what’s going on, that leads to stress, which leads to acting out, which leads to discipline problems and suspensions, etc. So it becomes part of a vicious cycle,” she said. “I would say that having that school climate measure is one of the ways that we are absolutely holding schools more accountable than we do right now.”

Rep. Julie von Haefen, D-Wake, asked what school accountability models other states use, and why North Carolina isn’t adopting one of those. Maher said there is a lot of overlap based on federal reporting requirements, but not many looking at the measures N.C. is now looking at.

“We’re trying to lead the way in changing the manner in which we evaluate our public schools,” Maher said.

Rep. Ashton Wheeler Clemmons, D-Guilford, commended Truitt and the DPI team on their efforts to “to ask bigger questions about what we hope for our children and what we hope for our state.”

This work is an attempt to “modernize what parents are looking for in public education,” Truitt said, and to more fully recognize the things schools are doing to create successful students.

“The accountability model drives what gets done in a school and what gets prioritized. Right now we are only prioritizing high-stakes, one-and-done testing,” Truitt said. “While it is important to be public about how our students are doing in reading and math and science and their proficiency rates and those teacher growth rates, there’s so much more that we need to be transparent about.”

Bills heard during committee

The House education committee also heard several bills on Tuesday.

House Bill 762 would allow school social workers with a master’s degree to receive a salary supplement even if the degree is not required for their role. The salary supplement would equal a 10% supplement, General Assembly staff confirmed on Tuesday.

The House education committee gave a favorable report to the bill, which will now go to appropriations. (Notably, the House budget proposal included reinstating master’s pay for teachers; the Senate proposal did not.)

The committee also gave a favorable report to House Bill 833, which would appropriate $150,000 to “study and report on programs focused on increasing the socioeconomic and geographic diversity of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools.” The bill will now also go to the appropriations committee.

Originally, HB 833 was named “Increase Minority Male Teachers/Program Study,” and focused on studying programs meant to increase minority male teachers specifically.

Both versions of the bill focus on studying the following programs: The Call Me MiSTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role models) program at Western Carolina University, and the Marathon Teaching Institute at North Carolina Central University.

The newest version of the bill includes studying “effective programs in other states.” A few Democratic members asked about the name change.

“… We’re looking at any other programs that may also have impacts that we have not considered,” Rep. Ken Fontenot, R-Nash, said in response.

Democratic members asked if the bill specifically addressed recommendations from the DRIVE task force, formed by Gov. Roy Cooper in 2019 to analyze the state’s racial and ethnic diversity in education. DRIVE stands for Develop a Representative and Inclusive Vision for Education.

The bill does not specifically address those recommendations, staff confirmed. The task force focuses on racial and linguistic diversity, staff said, whereas HB 833 focuses on socioeconomic and geographic diversity.

Finally, the committee had a lengthy discussion on Senate Bill 636. Among other things, SB 636 would prohibit the State Board of Education from delegating to the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s (NCHSAA) the authority to set policy about eligibility, specifically including decisions about whether to allow name, image, and likeness deals by athletes.

The NCHSAA approved a new policy earlier this month allowing student athletes to make money off of such deals. Several Republicans on the committee expressed concern and displeasure with the decision. The committee will take a vote on the bill at a later meeting.

Hannah Vinueza McClellan

Hannah McClellan is EducationNC’s senior reporter and covers education news and policy, and faith.