An advisory group of education leaders reviewing the state’s approach to assessing public schools based on A-F performance grades is proposing that several indicators be added to the state’s school accountability system to more accurately and fairly reflect school quality and student success.
In a progress report presented today to the state House K-12 Education Committee, staff from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction outlined several potential recommendations from the advisory panel aimed at improving the state’s School Performance Grades, which now are keyed almost exclusively to student scores on the state’s standardized year-end exams.
The report summarizes a months-long effort by the advisory group, which began last fall, and is comprised of a broad range of education practitioners, policy experts and leaders in the field who are considering how to overhaul the state’s current accountability system. First reported for the 2013-14 school year, the A-F school performance grades have been unpopular with many educators and parents since they were introduced because they tend to reward schools with high grades for strong passing rates while branding those with low rates even if they met growth expectations.
The key starting point for the School Performance Grade Redesign Advisory Group, the report explains, was to address the question, “what indicators yield a clear and accurate representation of a high-quality school in North Carolina?” The report continues that the advisory group and others who were consulted considered an “accountability system that goes beyond test scores and shows the breadth and depth of school success in North Carolina.”
In addition to the advisory group’s deliberations, DPI leadership has engaged with 100s of district superintendents and leaders, charter school leaders, principals, teachers, parents, school board members, non-profit education institutions, and the public since last fall to ensure various perspectives and expertise were reflected in the recommended changes.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt said changes to the school grading system are needed not only to measure school performance more accurately, but also to help drive better student outcomes since accountability measures have a strong influence on the priorities for teaching and learning in schools.
“This work is important because we want to make sure that the formula used to determine school quality is more encompassing and inclusive of measures beyond just how a student performs on a test,” said Truitt. “This work has allowed us to examine the other indicators that could be used to help paint a more complete picture of school quality. Ultimately, if we want public schools to continue providing students with the opportunity to pursue the postsecondary pathway of their choosing, then the model used to measure that should instead reflect how well students are prepared for that next step – be it employment, enlistment, or post-secondary enrollment.”
The report proposes no adjustments for how test scores are weighted in the current accountability model – 80% performance and 20% growth, but focuses mainly on new indicators of school quality. But included in the report is detailed information about how several other states that also require school performance grades in their accountability systems compare to North Carolina, which tends to have larger proportions of schools with Ds and Fs – even though national assessments show North Carolina performing at least on par with those states.
“None of the results place North Carolina last among the six states reviewed,” the report explains, “which would be expected given North Carolina has substantially more D and F schools than the other states. Moreover, North Carolina’s 2019 [National Assessment of Educational Progress] scores ranked above the national average in all tested subjects and grades. North Carolina’s 2022 NAEP scores were higher than the national average in all tested grades and subjects except for grade 8 reading.
“NAEP data affirms North Carolina schools are performing considerably better than their state performance grades otherwise suggest. The disproportionally large numbers of D and F schools in North Carolina, as compared to other states, prompts two questions:
“How can North Carolina strengthen the validity of its accountability system for assigning school performance grades? And how might evolving values and priorities of North Carolina stakeholders influence revisions to the current system and its intended uses?”
The advisory group is proposing eight potential indicators to evaluate schools more broadly – rather than the current focus on test scores – setting the stage for a more comprehensive approach to assessing school quality.
The recommended eight indicators for further study include the following:
- Five-year cohort graduation rate: the percentage of students who fulfill graduation requirements within five years of entering grade 9.
- Chronic absenteeism: the percentage of students who exceed a specified number of absences deemed to be chronic.
- Improvement in student group performance: measures of subgroup performance as defined by growth targets and actual outcomes.
- Postsecondary Inputs:
- Elementary: Percentage of students who participate in a career exploration activity.
- Middle: Percentage of students who have a career development plan.
- High school: Percentage of students who fulfill at least one of a defined list of postsecondary preparation programs/classes/certifications.
- Postsecondary Outcomes: Percentage of graduates who either have confirmed acceptance or enrollment in a postsecondary institution, enlistment in the military, or employed.
- Extra/Intra Curricular: Percentage of students who participate in at least one extracurricular or intra-curricular activity.
- Durable Skills: Informed by the developing rubrics for the competencies defined by the Portrait of a Graduate initiative.
- School Climate: Possibly a student, teacher and parent survey instrument.
The report says that over the next several months, DPI will clearly define each indicator and identify the availability of the required data.
In addition, the report says, the advisory group will consider these issues:
- The value and appropriateness of any current indicators in a new system.
- The structure of a new system, particularly about the weights of the indicators.
- The potential for a state-centered system that is separate from meeting federal requirements.
- The legislative impact of any changes or new design of an accountability system.