Goodman: There’s more to the School Report Card than letter grades

Dr. Cindy Goodman Superintendent of Richmond County Schools

Dr. Cindy Goodman
Superintendent of Richmond County Schools

During the 2013 long session, the General Assembly passed legislation requiring the state to issue School Report Cards. There is a lot of debate over the motive behind the grading system. Some legislators claim it is simply a way to hold teachers and principals accountable for student performance, but there is an underlying belief some legislators want people to think our schools are failing in order to promote vouchers — allowing public money to be spent for private schools.

I am a believer in accountability. Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, schools have been held to high standards and the performance of all groups of students has been measured. Our General Assembly has decided the grades schools receive will be based on a formula weigh weights proficiency on tests at 80 percent and student growth at 20 percent. My belief is the only thing schools can control is what they do with the students for the 180 days of the school year. Accurate measures have been developed that allow us to calculate the affect of a teacher has had on a child over the course of the year — growth. However, the General Assembly has chosen to weight student proficiency on tests at 80 percent while knowing there is almost a perfect direction correlation between high poverty and low student achievement. Schools in affluent districts could make a B grade if they gave the test on the first day of school. They could make their B without teaching anyone anything! The School Report Card concept is not unique to North Carolina. However, North Carolina is the only state that has chosen such a skewed formula.

Teachers employed in high poverty schools who work hard every day and accomplish amazing things with often challenging students could be “rewarded” with a grade of D or F. Over the past five years, 79 percent of Richmond County Schools have made “Expected or High Growth.” That means, according to the state’s measures, the vast majority of our schools are doing what is expected of them or more. That large percentage reflects the hard work of our teachers and I believe should be weighted more on the School Report Card.

Another flaw in the School Report Card system is the fact that the grades are based on tests that only 56 percent of the student statewide passed last year. When North Carolina fully implemented Common Core and State Standards two years ago, a major goal was to increase rigor. The same year we adopted the new standards, we administered new tests that reflected the rigor. The Department of Public Instruction decided although new scores were alarmingly low across the state, our teachers and students could adapt to the new standards and over time, scores would rise. Now these low scores are being used to “beat up our teachers.”

Lastly, because the predicted scores were so low, the State Board of Education voted to change the scale — instead of calculating the grades on a 10-point scale, they opted to use a 15-point scale. Although this will help raise some F’s to D’s and D’s to C’s, the understanding is the scale will be changed back to a 10-point scale for next year’s School Report Card. The result could be that a school could work very hard and make significant gains in both “proficiency on tests” and “student growth,” and their scores would actually go down. Not only does this once again “punish teachers,” but also confuses the public.

However the report cards turn out next month, we will continue to work hard and provide a quality education for the students of Richmond County. We will not be satisfied until every child in our system is proficient in all subjects, achieves growth every year and graduates college or career ready.

Dr. Cindy Goodman is superintendent of Richmond County Schools. She can be contacted by email or by phone at 910-582-5860.

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