Accountability North Carolina Poverty

North Carolina Teacher: What We Learned from School Grades

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This year, for the first time, North Carolina followed Jeb Bush’s lead and gave each of its schools a letter grade, A-F. The grades reflect poverty and also the state’s failure to support the schools with the greatest needs. The idea that a complex institution can be given a single letter grade is nonsensical. If a child came home with a single letter grade, his or her parents would be outraged. How much stupider it is to stigmatize schools with a single letter grade.

Here is a letter from North Carolina teacher Stuart Egan on this subject:

“The North Carolina State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) released performance grades for all public schools on February 5th. According to the formula, a high percentage of each school grade was based on a single round of tests, assessments rushed into implementation to satisfy Race to the Top requirements.

“These performance grades serve as a clear indication of what our leaders are not doing to help students in public schools. Of the 707 schools that received a “D” or an “F” from the state, 695 qualify as schools with high poverty; meanwhile, more than half of the schools that achieved an “A” were early colleges, academies, and charter schools whose enrollments are much smaller and more selective than traditional public schools.

“What the state proved with this grading system is that it is ignoring the very students who need the most help—not just in the classroom, but with basic needs such as early childhood programs and health care accessibility. These performance grades also show that schools with smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction are more successful, a fact lawmakers willfully ignore when it comes to funding our schools to avoid overcrowding.

“My prediction is that the results next year will be even more polarized but not because of any real improvement. Instead of a fifteen-point scale, the state will use a ten-point scale. Gov. McCrory and Sen. Berger will tout the strength of charter schools and other “reforms” for election-year platforms. It becomes confirmation bias.

“So as a parent, teacher, voter, and taxpayer, I want to offer my own grades to the very officials who control the conditions of school environments and manipulate how schools are graded:

The General Assembly receives an “F” for the following actions:

· The denial of Medicaid expansion for students who live in poverty. It is hard to perform academically when basic medical needs cannot be met. 1 in 5 students in Forsyth County are in poverty. WSFCS had an overall rate of 41.1 percent of schools with a “D” or “F”.

· The financing of failed charter schools that have no oversight and are, in many cases, acts of financial recklessness. New oversight rules are being requested in light of questionable use of taxpayer money as 10 charter schools are currently on a watch list.

· The funding of vouchers (Opportunity Grants) that effectively removed money for public education and reallocated it to charter schools.

· The underfunding of our public university system, which forces increases in tuition, while giving tax breaks to companies who benefit from our educated workforce.

· The removal of longevity pay for all veteran teachers, who now are the only state employees without it.

· The dismantling of the Teaching Fellows Program that recruited our state’s brightest to become the teachers of our next generation.

“The SBOE and DPI receive an “F” for the following actions:

· The emphasis on publicizing favorable graduation rates rather than on addressing the social factors that impede learning, particularly at the preschool or elementary levels.

· The removal of the cap for class size for traditional schools and claiming it will not impede student learning.

· The administration of too many tests (EOCT’s, MSL’s, CC’s, NC Finals, etc.). These change every year, take more time away from instruction and measure very little.

· The constant change in curriculum standards (Standard Course of Study, Common Core, etc.).

· The appointment of non-educators to leadership roles in writing new curricula.

· The engagement with profit-motivated companies that dictate not only what teachers are allowed to teach but also how students are assessed. Pearson, for example, provides not only curriculum standards for many of the subjects taught in North Carolina but also insists you use Pearson-made standardized tests many which require that Pearson employees grade them—for a price.

· The continuous change in how teachers are evaluated (Formative/Summative, NCEES, True North Logic, Standard 6). The system that many teachers are now subjected to is actually being implemented before it is even finalized.

“Officials who support the school performance grading system claim that it gives parents a better view of how our schools are performing. But if that is the case, why have EVAAS growth models and accreditation requirements? Never mind that those measures offer a more complete view of a school’s competence.

“Schools provide a great reflection of a society and how it prioritizes education. When our schools are told that they are failing, those with the power to affect change are really the ones who deserve the failing grades.”

Stuart Egan
West Forsyth High School
Clemmons, NC

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