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Schools and systems to receive letter grades
This school year, all schools and school systems will be awarded a performance number score and corresponding letter grade earned as part of the state’s annual report card under the new law, Excellent Public Schools Act (NC House Bill 950, Part 7A). The Nash-Rocky Mount Schools (NRMS) board and administration expressed their disagreement and concerns with the law at their annual retreat earlier this month.

Dr. Connie Luper, Nash-Rocky Mount Schools (NRMS) assistant superintendent, explained to the NRMS board that these grades will be created “just like in a restaurant,” easy for the public to view.

Evelyn Bulluck, NRMS board chairman and president of the board of directors of the NC School Boards Association (NCSBA), encouraged her fellow board members and NRMS administrators to prepare for a trip to the state capitol with community leaders, as the NCSBA has urged school districts to do. “We are going to go to Raleigh to talk to the legislators about this,” she said, “so that they’ll know how we feel about the bills they pass down without consulting us.”

Senator Buck Newton, who represents Nash, Wilson, and Johnston counties, told The Graphic that the state’s lawmakers are just as experienced and knowledgeable about public education and the issues at hand as those the schools refer to as “the experts.”

“There are many former educators in the legislature,” he said, “and most have lots of experience with public education, either having their children go through it or having gone through it themselves. Most of us also have public educators in our families.”

“One of the primary functions of state government, as mandated by the state constitution, is to make sure a system of sound education is in place that works for all children in North Carolina,” he continued. “We just can’t continue to sit back and allow school systems to continue on a sub-par, mediocre level.”

“There will always be some students that rise out of a mediocre system and make that system look good, and some students will only go so far even in a great system. But the vast majority of students don’t fall into either of those categories. Most need an excellent system to give them what they need to excel,” he said.

Dr. Anthony Jackson, NRMS superintendent, shared his views on this new law with the Nash County Commissioners at their annual retreat earlier this month. He suggested that lawmakers should consider “what the impact an A to F grade for schools and school systems will be on local economic development. These grades are totally based on tests,” he said.

The Excellent Public Schools Act states that grades for the schools and school systems will be given on a 10-point scale: at least 90 performance grade points for an overall school performance grade of A, at least 80 for a B, at least 70 for a C, and at least 60 for a D. A school that earns fewer than 60 points will receive a school performance grade of F.

“We are using a grading scale that is the same as people have already had, so an average person can interpret it,” Senator Newton said. “We need the letter names of the grades to be what everyone can understand.”

The number and letter grades given to schools and school systems will “reflect student performance on annual subject-specific assessments, college and workplace readiness measures, and graduation rates,” the law states. The law also adds “a student growth component to school performance grades.”

Speaking as the “unified voice for all school districts,” the NC School Board Association’s 2013-14 legislative agenda reports that “credit for annual growth in student achievement levels” is not included in the Excellent Public Schools Act, even though the law specifically states that a “growth component” is included.

The NCSBA agenda also states that the law’s “testing measurement will recognize only the aggregate percentage of students that achieve proficiency in a given year,” although the law specifies that the grades will be tallied from more information than proficiency testing results.

Grades given to schools and school systems “assess each unit’s efforts to improve student performance based on the growth in performance over the previous years’ level of performance and the State’s performance in comparison with other states,” the law states, and “takes into account factors that have been shown to affect student performance and that the State Board considers relevant to assess the State’s efforts to improve student performance.”

“Those who are against this letter grade rating system are a shining example of what’s wrong with the education system as a whole,” Senator Newton told The Graphic. “We will not back down on reform for our schools.”

“We don’t want a system that produces failing schools to be able to propagandize the public and say that their schools are not that bad,” he said. “No student should be forced and no parent should feel trapped to attend a failing school.”

The law requires the State Board of Education to “report to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee annually by January 15 on recommended adjustments to the school performance grade elements and scales for award of scores and grades.”

The law also specifies that “each local board of education shall ensure that the report card issued for it by the State Board of Education receives wide distribution to the local press or otherwise is provided to the public. Each local board of education shall ensure that the overall school performance score and grade earned by each school in the local school administrative unit for the current and previous four school years is prominently displayed on the website of the local school administrative unit.”

“If any school in the local school administrative unit is awarded a grade of D or F,” the law states, “the local board of education shall provide notice of the grade in writing to the parent or guardian of all students enrolled in that school.”

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