Thursday, February 5, 2015

NC's New A-F School Grading System: Perfect Measure of Poverty in Schools

Today, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction released the school report cards mandated by North Carolina’s legislature. (See those here.) These report cards graded each school with a letter grade A-F. Once again, our state has taken a step backward into absurdity with this action. Grading all the things our schools do with a single letter grade reduces, once again, what matters in North Carolina schools the most, to test scores. Once again, our state has elevated state testing to even higher stakes. Schools will now work in earnest prepping students for tests and getting those numbers up.

But elevating test scores is not only what this exercise in madness does; it also clearly demonstrates what’s wrong with education, and society, in North Carolina. In its article entitled “NC Public School Letter Grades Released, Reflecting Student Family Incomes,” The News and Observer sums up the real truth we learn from these report cards.

We don’t really learn which schools are failing and which are succeeding because the data used for this is narrowly focused on test score data and a few other indicators. What we learn of real importance is stated so aptly in this article:

“Among the schools where 80 percent or more of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch, 81 percent received a D or F. Only one of those schools got an A. At the other end of the spectrum, more than 90 percent of schools where fewer than 20 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch received an A or B. Only one of those schools received an F."

In other words, our legislature and North Carolina Department of Public Instruction hasn’t come up with a test at all on how our schools or do; they’ve developed the perfect test for poverty. In fact, it really shows that North Carolina’s barrage of tests are great for indentifying students who live in poverty! Probably much better than actually measuring student achievement.

Sadly though, I suspect the motivation behind this A-F grading system isn’t really about improving public education at all. After all, our North Carolina State Legislature proved during its last session it is no friend to public education, why would we expect different.? No, this grading system is simply another attempt by our political leaders to drum up or even manufacture false charges of failure so that they can continue to push their pet project of school vouchers and their blind obedience to free markets.

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