ESSA Driving Changes to State School Report Card Law

The North Carolina school grading formula will be changing again because the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires more detailed information. ESSA was enacted by Congress at the end of 2015, and many of its regulations are being developed now.

NC School Report Card grades are reported using an A-F system, and each letter grade has a 15-point span. So, a school with a score between 100% and 85% would earn an A grade, and a B would be 84% to 70%.

North Carolina has used some form of school accountability measure since 2001, and the formula has always relied heavily on student performance on End of Grade tests. The current accountability system, which was enacted in 2013, continues the tradition of using EOG scores in grades 3-8, and End of Course tests in high school, but ESSA will require more when regulations are released later this school year.

Policy makers who have acknowledged flaws in the current school report cards are hopeful the General Assembly will settle on an accountability system that will adequately represent annual school performance.

Current state law relies heavily on number of students who pass End of Grade tests in grades 3-8 and End of Course tests in high school. A smaller portion of a school’s grade is based on how many students met their growth targets for the school year. ESSA calls for using both measures, but it doesn’t say how they may be weighted, and policy makers are hopeful the state will give achievement and growth equal weight in the new system.

ESSA’s regulations also call for the measuring progress of English learners on English proficiency in grades 3-12 and graduation rates for high schools only. NC’s graduation rate has increased every year since it was first measured and is now over 85% and Wake County Public Schools System’s 2016 4-year graduation rate is 87% with a goal of 95% by 2020.

Schools will also be rated using data on post-secondary readiness, completion of advanced coursework and school climate and safety. Wake County Public School System has already been tracking much of this information for its own internal review of its 176 schools. The measures are used to congratulate high-performing schools and to support lower performing schools.

Since state law needs to be rewritten to make the changes required by ESSA, it is reasonable to expect the 2017 long session of the General Assembly will have a bill passed around just for school performance reports. WakeEd is already working with state policy makers to help shape the next phase of school accountability.

At the same time the law is being rewritten, the Department of Public Instruction will be submitting its school accountability plan to the US Department of Education for approval. States have a lot of control over how they will rate their schools as long as they meet the minimum requirements of ESSA.

The public is invited to send comments to DPI through its website. There will be six public information and comment sessions held around the state in October, but none in the Triangle area.

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