The unfortunate truths behind the NC school report cards

Last week, the State Board of Education revealed a new letter grading system for 2400 public schools and the results may be unsettling for administrators, students and parents alike.

With this year’s generous grading score, using a 15-point scale, schools could only receive an F if they scored below a 40%. This made it possible for about 70% of all schools to make a C or above with 5% of schools, such as Leesville, making an A. So how is it that 6% of schools still managed to receive Fs?

According to stats compiled by the News & Observer, these letter grades almost directly correlate with the wealth of student’s families: schools with fewer students who received free or reduced lunch are more likely to receive an A or B, while schools with a majority of students receiving free or reduced lunch are more likely to receive a D or F.

Grades for high schools were based on standardized test results, graduation rates, and the percentage of students who passed Math III, while grades for middle and high school students were based largely on standardized test results; only 20% of the grade was based on perceived “growth” of the students.

The results of the letter grades received a wide range of reactions. Those in favor of the new letter grading system believe that it will a much needed wake up call for schools who received lower scores.

Phil Berger, Senate leader and main force behind establishing the grades, believes that schools in high poverty areas that scored well should be used as an example for schools who did not do as well.  “I think it should help dispel the notion that just because a school is high poverty that the kids in those schools are relegated to situations where the schools are not going to do well,” Berger told the News and Observer.

Jim Merrill, Wake County superintendent, disagrees. He believes that the numbers don’t even come close to accurately representing what goes on in the schools.

Students, however, believe that the grades represent a mix of the two.

De’Shanta Milam, current freshman at NC State, recently received the news that her former school district received grades of a C and below. In an interview via e-mail, Milam stated that she believes that the results of these grades will only be semi-effective.

“I believe it will be a much needed wake up call for the Warren County School Board and the leaders of the school,” said Milam. “They will realize that changes will need to be made in order to improve these grades.” But Milam does acknowledge that these grades are not a complete reflection of the school, noting that basing 80% of the grades on test scores does not give a well rounded representation of other aspects of educational life.

Milam says that she expected this. “Every year, we lose and gain a lot of new teachers, mostly those in the Teach for America program, who are great teachers with extremely effective teaching methods. If we could have those teachers for a longer period of time, the grades of [the schools in Warren County] could improve.”

Milam brings up an interesting point regarding the Teach for America program. The Washington Post described the program as “one of the most controversial school reform organizations operating today.”

Teach for America takes young teachers, fresh out of college, and places them in high needs areas with just over a month of training. Critics point out that these schools are the most in need of veteran teachers. These teachers have a greater turnover rate, due to the fact that TFA teachers are only required to teach for two years. This is unfortunate seeing as studies have shown that students of Teach for America staff tend to do better on standardized tests than their peers.

Others believe that the problem has less to do with teachers, and more to due with funding.

Whatever the case may be, the school’s letter grades are drawing necessary attention to education deficiencies in America. Whether parents and students support or reject the grading system, it forces them to strike about important conversation about the happenings in their child’s school.

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