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House committee tackles school performance grade change

The House K-12 Education Committee moved forward Tuesday on a plan to change how school performance grades are calculated.

All but one member of the committee voted for a bill that would change the calculation of the grades from 80 percent academic performance and 20 percent growth to a 50-50 split. Academic performance is measured by students’ proficiency on statewide tests whereas academic growth is how much academic progress students make during the year.  

“Folks, we have had this discussion many times in the House,” said committee co-chair Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union. “In my view, education is growth.” 

In the House’s initial proposed budget for 2016, the calculation of school performance grades was changed to 50-50, but the budget compromise between the House and the Senate left the calculation at 80-20. 

“It is simply that proficiency rewards schools for the students they take in but not necessarily for how they teach students,” Horn said. 

The lone holdout on Tuesday’s vote was committee co-chair Rep. Debra Conrad, R-Forsyth. She said her county has several D and F schools, but she thinks the emphasis should be on performance because the goal is to get students on grade level. She said that is what academic performance encapsulates. 

“We want to keep the bar high and encourage teachers that this is our goal,” Conrad said. “Of course you do want children to grow, but you don’t want to mask the fact that they are not reaching grade level,” she later added.

The discussion was cut short by committee co-chair Linda Johnson, R-Cabarrus, who cited time restraints. 

The bill now goes to the full House. 

An end to NC final exams? 

The House committee also discussed legislation that would end statewide final exams. Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes, presented the legislation and said that eliminating the final exams would help with alleviate overtesting in North Carolina. 

“The big question is, ‘what tests are we actually utilizing to shape policy and use as comparing to other states when we’re determining the decisions that we make?'” he said. 

The legislation would only affect classes not aligned with federal requirements — that is, classes where federal requirements do not require the state provide data on student performance. 

In place of those exams, teachers would develop their own end-of-year tests for students. 

Rep. Horn raised concerns that eliminating the exams could impact the way the state measures the efficacy of teachers. Elmore said teacher evaluations are no longer tied directly to the exams. 

Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, asked if eliminating the exams would make it difficult to measure statewide student progress since there would be no standardized test to measure achievement. 

Elmore questioned whether the state is using the information gathered by standardized tests for these subjects now. 

“To make an elephant grow, you must feed him, not measure him,” he said. 

Elmore also said that stakeholders, including the North Carolina Association of Educators, were not pushing back against the legislation. 

“I think at this point it is truly a policy decision,” he said. 

There was no vote on the legislation Tuesday. 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.