School Performance Grading Model Reform Needed

Recently, you might have come across the 2022-2023 school grades published by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and featured in the Hickory Daily Record. These grades assign a letter grade to each school in North Carolina referred to as the School Performance Grade (SPG). The grading system, established by the General Assembly in 2013, relies heavily on standardized test scores.  Scores are weighted to prioritize achievement (80%) over student growth (20%) in evaluating school performance.  

Among the legislative priorities advocated by The Chamber of Catawba County, I wanted to address one in particular- the need to reform the current school performance grading model. While this model was conceived with the noble intention of informing policymakers, guiding school leaders, and assisting families in making school choice decisions, we believe it places excessive emphasis on test-based measures of school quality, which have limited scope. Additionally, it overlooks the crucial aspect of student growth. Our proposal is to institute a reformed model that equally prioritizes student proficiency and student growth, while exploring alternative assessment methods beyond standardized tests. By rebalancing the grading system to give greater weight to growth metrics, we can create a more accurate reflection of a school’s performance.

Our Advocacy Taskforce, comprised of a cross-sector group of business and community leaders, conducted an analysis of this issue. Student achievement is a cumulative process, and students begin the academic year from varying starting points. Hence, relying solely on achievement-based measurement fails to illustrate how schools contribute to student progress year by year. Furthermore, while standardized testing provides valuable insights into student achievement, it is limited to assessing where students stand concerning North Carolina standards, and it is only a point-in-time measurement. Currently, only 20% of a school’s grade considers student improvement on these scores, which we deem an inadequate measure of a school’s effectiveness. Moreover, this model often unfairly stigmatizes schools for conditions outside their control.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Catherine Truitt, aptly highlighted the limitations of this grading system when addressing the House K-12 Education Committee. She emphasized that the current model falls short of accurately defining school quality and student success. Although The Chamber of Catawba County acknowledges that student achievement is important, we must also acknowledge that our education system is not solely about achieving high test scores. It must equally encompass goals that nurture students’ growth, both academically and personally.

In response to pressure from Chambers of Commerce and education advocacy groups, the NC House of Representatives passed the Education Omnibus bill, which contained a provision requiring the Department of Public Instruction to conduct a study of the current model. While the NC Senate did not take up the bill, State Superintendent Truitt took a commendable step forward by forming an advisory group consisting of educators and policymakers to reassess our school report card system. Their objective is to identify additional factors that should be considered when determining school performance grades. We feel this collaborative approach is pivotal to ensure an equitable and holistic assessment of our schools. Once the advisory group has provided more detailed recommendations to the General Assembly, we urge legislative action to establish a new accountability model.

Why would the business community weigh in on this issue? The Chamber of Catawba County is committed to fostering an environment that attracts businesses and talent. One compelling reason for revising the school report card system is its significant impact on businesses and workforce recruitment efforts. When businesses contemplate relocating or expanding, or when working-age families seek to move for new career opportunities, they closely evaluate the quality of local schools. An accurate representation of school performance is crucial for making informed decisions that shape the future of our communities.

Furthermore, the business community relies on our education system to provide a skilled and knowledgeable workforce. They require graduates who possess not just test-taking skills but also critical thinking abilities, creativity, and adaptability. By overemphasizing test scores, our current system risks undermining these essential qualities, which are vital for business success in an ever-evolving world.

In closing, our local educators play an invaluable role in shaping the future of our community, inspiring and equipping all students for success, and we commend them wholeheartedly for their dedication and unwavering commitment to education excellence.

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