50-50 split

Published 8:49 am Tuesday, February 10, 2015

On face value, last week’s release of the A-F accountability model of all public schools across North Carolina caused local education officials to go into damage control.

With the exception of a handful of schools here in the Roanoke-Chowan area, the report – issued by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, listed sub-par grades locally.

Only five local schools received high marks. Three of those were easy to predict – Bertie Early College, Bertie STEM, and Hertford County Early College. The other two were Buckland Elementary and GatesCountyHigh School. The latter two were in a county where no school scored below a C.

Of the other 18 public schools in Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties, each scored no higher than a C. Seven received a failing grade (F).

None of that is good news, especially to the parents of our local schoolchildren as well as our educational administrators, teachers, and to the taxpayers who foot the bill, thinking that those dollars help ensure that our kids are receiving the best classroom instruction possible.

If it’s any consolation to our local school officials, they’re not alone in feeling that despite their best efforts, the state’s Report Card did them no favors as well. A mere five percent of the state’s public schools received an A for their academic efforts during 2013-14 academic year. On the other side of that is the 30 percent receiving Ds or Fs.

While we must hold our local education officials accountable, what the general public needs to understand is the fact that these Report Cards are written based on two measures: student achievement and academic growth.  Eighty percent of the grade is based on student achievement measures, such as test scores, graduation rates, and advanced course participation. The remaining 20 percent of the grade takes academic growth into account.  Schools that do not have academic growth data are assigned a letter grade based solely on student achievement measures.

The A-F model is better at predicting the poverty of an area as opposed to the achievement growth in schools. There’s more that make up a school’s quality than what a single letter grade could ever portray. Some of the best teachers work with those students who are furthest behind. The gains those teachers make won’t count as much as whether their students reach a proficiency score on an end-of-grade or course assessment.

The North Carolina General Assembly voted this accountability model into law in 2012. While it’s not the most popular measuring stick available (Virginia and Florida have both dropped it after an initial use), if North Carolina continues to judge public schools by this method, we would promote a more balanced approach balance between actual performance and performance growth. A 50-50 split is the fairest way to judge.

– Roanoke-Chowan Publications