Raleigh, N.C. — Public schools in North Carolina would get A through F letter grades to reflect their performance, starting next year, under legislation approved Tuesday by a House committee.
House Bill 435, which passed easily on a voice vote, would modify the letter-grade system that was part of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's sweeping education reform package last year. Although the package never made it out of the House, portions were rolled into the state budget and approved.
Currently, schools would be scored based on the percentage of students considered proficient in reading, math and biology and the percentage of students who graduate high school within four years and are deemed to be ready for either college or the workplace.
Co-sponsor Rep. Tricia Cotham, R-Mecklenburg, said those measures would mean that more than 70 percent of North Carolina public high schools would receive a D or F grade.
"This bill seeks to modify, and possibly improve some, the way that we assess and label these schools," said Cotham, a former teacher and principal in what she said grade out as "all F schools."
The proposed bill, which next goes to the House floor, would use a composite of student test scores in various subjects, depending on whether students are in elementary, middle or high school, as well as graduation rates and other measures and then compare those composites with the statewide mean. Schools scoring far above the mean would receive A's, while those far below would get failing grades.
Schools also could get bumped up as much as two letter grades by exceeding expected growth in student learning and by having at least 80 percent of students deemed proficient in key subjects for three straight years.
Although letter grades were to start this year, the bill pushes it back one year to allow for schools to implement Common Core reading and math standards this year.
Rep. Deb McManus, D-Chatham, said assigning letter grades to schools unfairly punishes those located in poor communities because students from low-income families or who are still learning English struggle the most with standardized tests.
"They're going to be labeled as failing schools even if they're working really hard and getting a lot of growth," McManus said. "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."
Co-sponsor James Langdon, R-Johnston, said there's no evidence that teachers choose schools based on how well they perform, but Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, argued that could change if legislation calling for merit pay for teachers passes.