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Thanks to reforms implemented by Gov. Pat McCrory (R), North Carolina now assigns each of its public schools with a letter grade to help parents understand where their child’s school ranks relative to other schools across the state.
The grades, which range from “A” to “F,” will be released annually in the state’s North Carolina School Report Cards report, published by the State Board of Education. Like most other states, North Carolina utilized its own custom performance designation system prior to switching to the A–F grading model.
Terry Stoops, the director of research and education policy studies for the John Locke Foundation, says under the previous system, parents were left confused about their children’s school performance.
“North Carolina lawmakers selected a letter grade system because it was easier to understand than the previous school performance designation system,” said Stoops. “For example, low performing schools were called ‘Priority’ schools, a term that had no meaning for the vast majority of North Carolinians. On the other hand, all parents comprehend what a ‘D’ or ‘F’ represents.”
North Carolina joins a growing list of states that have transitioned to a letter grade system for school performance reports. According to the Education Commission of the States, 14 states now assign or will soon assign letter grades to help citizens, especially parents, better understand how schools compare to one another.
Opponents of the new system argue a system that utilizes letter grades will give parents the wrong impression about the potential progress made by their child’s local public schools and could unjustly punish schools in low-income communities.
“They’re going to be labeled as failing schools even if they’re working really hard and getting a lot of growth,” Rep. Deb McManus (D-Chatham) told WRAL.com when the reform was first put into place in 2013. “These are the schools that need our best teachers, and I don’t know how we’re going to get teachers to choose to go to a school that is getting a D or an F.”
Stoops says those who oppose the new letter grade evaluation system are trying to protect the established public education structure, one that Stoops says needs significant reform.
“Fundamentally, public school advocacy organizations feared that school performance grades would further erode taxpayers’ confidence in the public school system,” said Stoops. “These groups dismiss those who call for expanding school choice and other structural reforms because, in their mind, public schools are not failing. Few will agree that the system is working, however, when nearly 30 percent, which amounts to over 700 North Carolina schools, earn a ‘D’ or ‘F’ grade.”
Officials at the North Carolina Association of Educators, the state’s largest professional development and advocacy organization for teachers, were contacted for comment on this story, but no reply has been received at press time.