The public’s last chance to weigh in on the methods North Carolina will use to measure school performance success ends Friday, July 27.

The way the state Department of Public Instruction plans to evaluate schools is changing because of requirements in the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, a federal law which replaced No Child Left Behind. The new law, commonly referred to as ESSA, calls on all states to develop comprehensive school accountability plans to ensure that K-12 public schools, including charters, are performing adequately. The plans must be submitted to the US Department of Education by September 18, 2017.

The final version of the draft plan is available on the DPI website. Comments may be sent directly to Lou Fabrizio at Lou.fabrizio@dpi.nc.gov or Donna Brown at Donna.brown@dpi.nc.gov.

Ultimately, the ESSA accountability plan is North Carolina’s blueprint for communicating school performance data to the federal government. The data and information gathered about the schools in North Carolina will be used by federal government for its own assessment of the health of the state’s public school system.

It is also comprehensive enough that it could be used by the state to produce a school performance evaluation system to replace the A through F school accountability grading system, an idea WakeEd supports here and here. However, it doesn’t appear the General Assembly is ready to abandon A-F grades altogether because it revised the grading system to align with regulations required by ESSA when it passed the 2017-19 state budget bill.

The General Assembly’s grading system is the official tool used to determine if a school is considered “underperforming”, but it lacks any mechanisms to truly understand why a school isn’t producing adequate results. The ESSA plan, by contrast, has built into it methods of collecting data about student performance and teacher effectiveness which will give a more complete picture of a school’s performance and hopefully lead to specific interventions that can be used to turn an underperforming school around.

Public comments received before Friday will be used to make any necessary final changes to the plan. It is long, but it is well annotated and written in layman’s terms. Of particular interest to the general public is any of the blue-colored text.

The state’s ESSA plan does not need any approval from the General Assembly or Gov. Roy Cooper, but it is submitted with Cooper’s signature and the signature of state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson.

Once submitted, the US Department of Education will either approve it as is or recommend changes. Some states which have already submitted their plans have received some specific feedback from the federal agency on how to improve their plans. School performance will be measured starting with the 2017-18 year even though final adoption of the North Carolina plan might not come until January 2018.

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