A House education committee moved forward legislation that would allow seniors in one school district to get a grade for the spring semester if they want. Originally, the bill was a statewide bill that was in opposition to a State Board of Education decision that seniors can only choose between a passing grade or withdraw from the course.
The bill ultimately passed by the House education committee, however, only allows Union County Public Schools to let seniors in the school district get grades if they want.
According to Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, a co-chair of the committee, Union County was singled out because the district’s board of education unanimously voted to take this position and then reached out to lawmakers seeking the change.
Horn said no other districts have reached out asking for the same exemption from State Board policy, though he said that doesn’t mean they won’t.
“I will not be surprised if there are some inquiries from some members on behalf of their boards to have them added to the bill when it hits the floor or goes to rules (committee),” he said. “But I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Because of COVID-19 and the fact that schools are closed for in-person instruction this spring, the State Board approved a policy in March that would let seniors forgo grades in favor of a pass or withdrawal given their status as of March 13. If a student was failing as of that date, then he or she could spend the remainder of the semester trying to get their grade up to passing through remote learning.
At a State Board meeting in April, questions were raised about why seniors who wanted a numerical grade couldn’t get one, just as students in grades 9-11 can. After extensive debate at a meeting in May, the State Board voted to keep the policy as is.
Board members who were in favor of allowing seniors to get grades said that while many seniors might have already been accepted to universities, some likely won’t apply until later and not having a grade could affect their ability to gain admission to college. Others said that they didn’t see how letting a senior choose a grade affected anybody.
A statement from Lt. Gov. Dan Forest read during the meeting said, “This to me is a no brainer. As it does nothing to hurt a student but can definitely make all the difference in an already hectic end of high school career for those students who want the grade that they earned.”
Staff from the state Department of Public Instruction said during the State Board meeting that if the grading policy were changed, it would be difficult to implement since seniors have already likely been making decisions under the assumption that their only option was to take a pass or withdrawal.
Another bill approved by the education committee addressed driver’s education concerns in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill would waive the requirement that those trying to get a driver’s license have to pass a road test. Under the legislation, the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles could give out a 90-day license that could be renewed until such time as the DMV started offering road tests again.
The bill would also allow students who had been enrolled in driver’s education in the spring semester before schools were closed to be marked as having completed the course if they had done 15 hours of classroom instruction. If a student hadn’t completed that many hours, they would be given the chance to take a proficiency exam instead.
Students are required to take six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction before getting a driver’s education completion certificate. The bill also allocates $10 million to cover the costs of instruction.
Early childhood education in low-performing schools
A third bill heard and passed in the committee would add strategies for improving early childhood learning as a requirement in school improvement plans that must be developed by low-performing schools. It would also require a comprehensive needs assessment that includes an examination of early childhood learning.