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Senate committee takes on school performance grades

The Senate education committee today gave a favorable vote to a bill that would make the 15-point grade scale for school performance grades permanent.

Currently, the grades are on a 15-point scale where 85-100 is an A and so on down the line. That is set to change to a 10-point scale next year and could mean an influx of newly-labeled low-performing schools. At the last release of the school performance grades, there were 476 low performing schools — a number that could rise considerably if the grade scale changed. The compromise budget, which will be voted on in both chambers this week, extends the 15-point scale. This bill would ensure that the scale remains 15 points forevermore.

An amendment to the bill also adds a provision requiring the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education to study the formula that makes up the school performance grades and report back with a recommendation on what the formula should be by February 2020. 

The school performance grades are calculated using a formula that is made up of academic performance (80%) and academic growth (20%). There has been a steady debate in the General Assembly over this formula the past few years, with some lawmakers advocating for academic growth playing a bigger part in the grades because they say it is a more effective indicator of how well teachers are doing their jobs. Growth is essentially how much a student learns in a year, whereas academic performance measures how well students do on standardized tests. Proponents of keeping academic performance front and center say it measures whether students are where the state wants them to be education-wise, so it’s important to keep the emphasis on it.

In presenting the amendment, committee co-chair Sen. Rick Horner, R-Nash, referenced multiple attempts to change the formula. Attempts to make the formula a 50/50 split and to have separate grades for both performance and growth came out of the House this session.

“We want to get it right,” Horner said. “It just needs a good airing out so that folks out there can feel confident that these schools are being graded on a fair manner.”

Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson, said the topic of school performance grades comes up regularly when he talks with teachers in the districts he represents. He said this bill will cut down on the need for those talks.

“This grading scale is arbitrary, and while it’s an important benchmark it doesn’t truly reflect the performance of the student,” he said.

The Senate education committee also took up a relatively non-controversial bill that makes various education changes. But an amendment did add one provision, at least, that the community college system has been eagerly pursuing. That amendment adds language similar to a provision in a previously filed Senate bill that would allow postsecondary students to use graduation from a North Carolina high school as evidence for the purposes of in-state tuition.

This amendment helps deal with an issue facing community colleges with regards to in-state tuition. Parents’ residence plays a large role in deciding whether a student gets in-state tuition, but community college students are sometimes non-traditional, and the reliance on their parents’ residence to get in-state tuition sometimes puts them in a bind. They may not live with their parents, they may be older students, etc. This amendment allows the prospective student to use their high school graduation to rebut the presumption that their residence is the same as their parents or legal guardian. The language in the amendment, however, stresses that evidence of high school graduation in state is not enough to prove in-state residence alone.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.