The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday March 30th

NC schools would remain on 15-point grading scale under new proposal

The state instituted a new school performance report card system for its public, charter and alternative schools for the 2013-14 academic year — and the first report, released in February, graded schools on a 15-point scale. A score of 85 and above gave schools an A, a score of 70 to 84 gave a school a B, and so forth.

Starting with the 2014-15 report, grades were supposed to shift to a 10-point scale, making it more difficult to achieve a passing score. But bills introduced in the N.C. House of Representatives and Senate on Wednesday would delay the change.

The delay would help schools have more time to adjust to the different scale, said Yevonne Brannon, director of the Center for Urban Affairs and Community Services at N.C. State University.

“They need to be given some time to meet that standard before labeling them as failures,” said Matt Ellinwood, a policy analyst from the left-leaning N.C. Justice Center.

The grading scale uses a variety of factors that combine to make up a grade out of 100, with 80 percent of the grade coming from standardized test scores and 20 percent coming from school growth overall compared to the state average.

Shifting to a 10-point scale could cause some schools to fail that would have passed under a 15-point scale. A grade of 59 would currently be a C but would become an F under the new system. Some examples in and around Chapel Hill include Frank Porter Graham Elementary School, Efland Cheeks Elementary School and Gravelly Hill Middle School.

Ellinwood said there has been debate about how much weight should be placed on test scores versus growth. A bill proposed Thursday would reverse those ratios — making 80 percent of the grade contingent on growth.

Still, some education experts say the grading system’s design is hurting the state’s low-income schools.

When grades are examined, over one-fourth of schools were given a failing grade of a D or an F. At nearly all of these failing schools, more than half of the students were living below the poverty line.

“Most of the grades correlate directly with the poverty level of the school,” Brannon said.

Ellinwood said these labels can be harmful to morale and detrimental to schools because a bad letter grade will steer parents away from that particular school.

“Taking a variable and labeling with a grade is essentially labeling the school with a scarlet letter,” Brannon said.

Supporters of the grading scale say it is helpful because it holds schools accountable and encourages them to improve.

But Ellinwood said the pushback mainly comes from schools that don’t think the grades they received are accurate measures of their performance.

The grading system is the problem, not the grading scale, Brannon said.

“Why are we grading schools; is this really effective?”


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