North Carolina has been rating school performance on an A-through-F scale since 2013-14, when the Republican-led state legislature started the letter-grading system.
Schools are assessed on a 100-point scale, with 80 percent of the grade coming from the percent of students who pass exams and the other 20 percent factoring in year-to-year growth.
Supporters of the system say letter grades provide a simple way for parents, educators and community members to assess how various schools are doing. But critics say that the system tends to stigmatize schools in high poverty areas.
Lakewood Elementary Principal James Hopkins said the state standards are a valuable guide for assessing teachers, but the grading formula is “backwards” because it “can undermine efforts made in areas in North Carolina that have historically struggled to achieve proficiency, but have not struggled to meet growth.”
“I think that the current model, the formula, does not help reflect what schools are doing,” he said. “I understand why the state wants to have grades, but I think the formula is flawed and it gives a very negative perception for schools like Lakewood.”
Even as Lakewood received an “F” grade for 2017-18, it met its growth expectation, and Hopkins said a model that gives more weight to a school’s growth status would better reflect the learning happening in more disadvantaged classrooms.
“The way that its reflected in the paper is that Lakewood is a failing school,” he said. “To say that we are an F school I think deflates any additional efforts that we have made in trying to address some of our learning gaps with our students.”
Gwendolyn Dorman, principal of Mangum Elementary School, agreed that test scores can be misleading, but said Magnum would score well even if the formula were flipped. “We’re definitely getting the growth that we need,” she said.
For better or worse, schools have to work with the system they’re handed, she said.
“There’s lots of research on whether tests are culturally biased,” she said. “And whether they are or aren’t, unfortunately we have to teach (students) for the test.”