NC Needs to Adopt a Unified, Comprehensive School Accountability Standard

The North Carolina School Report Cards program was broken from the start, and now the state has a chance to change it for the better. The question is: Who’s going to do it?

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is drafting a plan to measure student outcomes under new federal regulations which do not match the current state law for school report cards. Unless the General Assembly changes the state School Report Cards law this year, there could be two different school accountability programs in North Carolina.

The conflict was created when Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015 to replace the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). ESSA requires all states to continue reporting student outcomes from standardized tests like NCLB did, but ESSA also gives states the flexibility to include other measures of student progress. North Carolina’s School Report Cards law relies heavily on end of grade/course tests and it is weighted towards proficiency over growth. The results produce an A-F letter grade for each public and charter school.

If both school grading systems exist at the same time, it could lead to confusion for parents and educators alike. A school could be labeled underperforming on one system while earning high marks on the other. That’s unacceptable. There needs to be a single measure of annual school performance that is both easy to understand and detailed enough to give educators, superintendents and school boards the ability to make the appropriate changes when schools don’t meet expectations.

DPI staff have created a draft school accountability plan to respond to the new ESSA regulations, and it is asking for public review and comment through the “Let’s Talk” feature on its website. (Scroll down to the “Let’s Talk About…” section and click on “Every Student Succeeds Act”.) The plan still includes tracking performance on annual standardized tests in grade 3-8 and in specific high school courses, measuring how well non-native English speakers are learning the language, and breaking down student performance by subgroups such as ethnicity, economic status, and students with disabilities.

All of this additional data will give schools and local education authorities important information to make more specific changes to improve student outcomes. Parents will be able to see where exactly a school needs improvement instead of being led to believe an entire school is failing.

This is the right direction for North Carolina’s school accountability program. It will give a clear picture of performance, and it will allow for a better allocation of resources where they are needed most. During this long session of the General Assembly, which opens on January 25, legislators should consider revising the School Report Cards law to align with the ESSA regulations. It will fix a broken system and put the power in the hands of the decision makers closest to the needs.

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