On Tuesday night, the Board of Education made plain their displeasure with the General Assembly’s approach to school grades and associated repercussions.
The General Assembly’s Appropriations Bill changed how schools were designated as low performing. Last school year, a school was low performing if it received a letter grade of D or F and did not meet expected growth. This year, the language changed to say that a school would be low performing if it received a letter grade of D or F and did not exceed expected growth.
The letter grade formula is weighted to prioritize end of grade or end of course achievement (test scores count 80 percent) over academic growth (growth counts 20 percent). The shift in current language reduces the value of growth, as schools receiving a letter grade of D or F that MEET expected growth are now considered low performing.
Schools that are labeled low performing for multiple years must take additional steps regarding the employment of principals and evaluation of licensed employees.
Twenty schools in the Wake County Public School System have been labeled low performing.
It’s a feeling shared by other school boards around the state. Earlier this month, the Guilford County school board passed a resolution that calls the General Assembly’s School Performance Grading system an, “ill-conceived, ineffective, and damaging approach to addressing otherwise legitimate needs to provide parents and taxpayers with accurate indications of school performance.” Further, the resolution asks that the General Assembly, “repeal legislation establishing School Performance Grades and the designation of low performing schools, and take such steps as needed and appropriate to support the effective evaluation of our students, and school personnel.”
School board member Tom Benton spoke with candor and directness. Many school board members expressed gratitude for Benton’s remarks. Thus, they are a good representation of the sentiment of the group and are included in approximate entirety.
“I will be abstaining from voting on this action tonight to show my extreme displeasure with the whole process that we have had forced on us by laws that were put into the budget never appearing before any committees to be discussed…And the reason I am doing this is that we are past the point of just emphasizing standardized testing…to the disadvantage of how young people learn…we’re past that point to where we’re doing real damage to people. We’re damaging students. We’re damaging teachers. We’re damaging principals. We’re damaging schools. We’re damaging communities. We’re stigmatizing them, we’re penalizing them, and there’s absolutely nothing in this law that offered any additional resources to help these people. …I’ve made it real clear, my disdain for single letter grades for schools as being an invalid measurement. But parents are paying attention to it. Civic leaders are paying attention to it. So it’s beginning to have real consequences, and now we have five hundred and fifty-some schools across the state that are paying real consequences for what is I think a very invalid measurement to use in the first place. We’ve discussed whether this letter grade should have been based on growth or proficiency. The state came down heavily on proficiency, which means that eighty percent of these letter grades is based solely on the percentage of students that are passing these standardized tests….
When you add into that that there’s an extremely close correlation between low performing schools and the environments students come from – we are looking at teachers being held responsible for environmental influences that they have no control over. And these teachers, in many, many cases, have given their lives to try and help these students that are needing the most help. Our state has adopted policy after policy, practice after practice, that discourage people from going into the teaching profession, and discourages them from going to these low performing areas. So, in my opinion, we owe these principals and teachers at these schools at debt of gratitude, we owe them our respect, and we owe them additional resources and support to give them a chance to have success with these students. But instead, we’re caught in a process where we’re going to further stigmatize and penalize these very people that are needing our most support and our most help. And so I will be abstaining from voting for these actions…”
Jim Martin, Monika Johnson-Hostler, Bill Fletcher, Kevin Hill, and Christine Kushner joined Benton in abstaining from the vote. Zora Felton and Keith Sutton were not present.
Under school board policy, a decision not to vote when present is a vote in the affirmative. That means that the motion to approve passed with unanimous support, and the school board is effectively in compliance with the law requiring their review and approval of plans.
Those plans now go to the State Board of Education for review.