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### Legislative Group Urges Reform in Evaluating North Carolina Schools

A committee in North Carolina has proposed a revamp of the state’s school grading system, which assigns letter grades to schools and imposes additional requirements on those with the lowest scores. The aim of these grades, mandated by federal law, is to provide transparency on school performance and ensure accountability for student outcomes. State education leaders and lawmakers are advocating for a broader set of criteria to evaluate school quality, aligning with practices in most other states.

The House Select Committee on Education Reform recently refrained from addressing issues like increasing student absences, opting to defer recommendations to the General Assembly leadership for the upcoming short session. The committee plans to reconvene before the 2025 legislative session to propose further measures.

One significant aspect of the committee’s 2024 report focuses on enhancing the assessment of school performance grades. The proposed changes suggest retaining the letter grading system but incorporating additional factors beyond just exam results. These factors would include the proficiency levels of students in standardized tests, average student test score progression, readiness for college or career paths, and a new category termed “opportunity.” The “opportunity” category encompasses various elements such as surveys, rates of chronic absenteeism (students missing more than 10% of school days), and participation in extracurricular activities.

The committee’s recommendation to broaden the criteria for school grading was swiftly approved, although some members expressed a desire for more explicit strategies to address chronic absenteeism. Notably, during the 2022-23 academic year, approximately 25% of North Carolina public school students were classified as chronically absent, a concerning statistic that reflects the challenges faced by the education system.

By expanding the evaluation criteria for school performance grades, the committee aims to provide a more comprehensive assessment that goes beyond traditional test scores. This shift is intended to offer a more balanced view of school quality and better communicate performance to stakeholders, including parents and students.

The current grading system in North Carolina heavily relies on test scores, but the committee’s recommendations seek to introduce a more holistic approach that considers additional metrics such as graduation rates, attendance records, and extracurricular involvement. The state’s emphasis on test scores has led to a higher proportion of schools receiving lower grades compared to other southern states with similar or lower standardized test scores.

While the calculation of grades is mandated by state law, the focus on test scores has been criticized for its limited scope and lack of accountability for low-performing schools. State Superintendent Catherine Truitt highlighted the need for a more nuanced grading system that captures a broader range of factors influencing school performance and addresses the support required by struggling schools.

In addition to the proposed changes in school performance grading, the committee identified various challenges within the North Carolina education landscape, including issues related to teacher compensation, principal salaries, and student access to essential resources like internet connectivity and computers at home. Despite these challenges, the committee also acknowledged positive developments in schools, such as progress in mitigating learning losses from the pandemic and increased enrollment in advanced math courses.