Legislative Session Ends with Bang and Fizzle

Members of the General Assembly called this year’s legislative session “short,” but it was anything other than short when considering the number of education reforms addressed.

\"legislativeSome passed, some failed. Either way, there’s harbingers for what’s ahead in next year’s long session.

The budget, which is awaiting final signature by Gov. Pat McCrory, had perhaps the most significant impact on education policy. It was stuffed with over a dozen K-12 related measures aimed at modifying teacher compensation, addressing the teacher pipeline, and paying and evaluating principals and assistant principals.

There are some significant items that have not received a great deal of attention elsewhere, or they do not affect WCPSS yet but they may in the future.

Elementary class sizes were capped in grades K-3 at some impressively small numbers. Kindergarten will have a max of 18 students per teacher. First grade will have 16 students per teacher. Second and third grade will have no more than 17 students per teacher. These changes won\’t take effect until the 2017-18 school year.

School performance grades are a controversial topic, and so far they have not been well received as a means to measure school performance. The formula for calculating a school’s position on the A-F scale uses two metrics: achievement and growth. The current formula weights achievement (the number of students passing EOG and EOC tests) at 80 percent while growth (the grade-level readiness of students) is weighted at 20 percent. Wake Ed advocated that this weighting be changed, and it was changed to a 50-50 balance in the version of the budget that the House passed. That didn’t make it into the final budget, however.

What did make it into the final budget was a still significant change to keep the 15-point scale for the A-F grades. The original law adopted last year called for a move to a 10-point scale this year. Wake Ed advocated for and the budget kept the 15-point scale, so a school that scores 85 percent and above gets an A grade.

In other parts of the state, the budget created pilot programs to address high school drop-outs and instructional assistants becoming certified teachers. The former would raise the minimum drop-out age to 18 in certain counties and study the affect that had on graduation rates in those districts. The latter creates a pathway for teacher assistants to obtain licensure through a program which helps the assistants meet the minimum requirements for certification.

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