Education

Cooper signs bill on school performance grades, virtual learning and mask voting

Posted August 31, 2021 11:19 a.m. EDT
Updated August 31, 2021 3:32 p.m. EDT

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper

— The North Carolina General Assembly and Gov. Roy Cooper have given the final OK for state officials to not calculate school performance grades based on last year’s standardized test results.

Cooper signed Senate Bill 654 into law Monday.

The bill was the final step needed to waive the requirement that schools be given a “performance grade” based on how well its students did on the tests. The General Assembly passed a compromise version of the bill, with other pandemic provisions in it, last week.

Earlier this year, the North Carolina State Board of Education asked the U.S. Department of Education and the General Assembly for a waiver of some school accountability measures. The federal government granted the waiver in the spring, while the General Assembly considered Senate Bill 654.

The legislation also:

  • Requires school boards to vote each month on their pandemic-related mask or face covering policy. Most public school districts have voted to require face masks.
  • Allows any public school to offer a virtual instruction option for the current school year, which allows for public charter schools to now offer it
  • Allows schools to plan for up to five days of remote learning annually when an emergency, such as bad weather or a power failure, keeps schools from opening
  • Allows schools to shift to remote-only learning if needed because of COVID-19 transmission concerns, provided they notify the state within 72 hours of making that change
  • Creates a Working Group of Virtual Academies, chaired by the state superintendent or a designee, that studies virtual learning requirements and submit a report by March 15 to the Joint Legislative education Oversight Committee
  • Prevents applicants for a driving eligibility certificate from being denied one because they can’t prove they’ve been making progress toward a high school diploma or an equivalent
  • Restores driver’s permits to those who had them revoked because of their school performance during the pandemic
  • Requires educator evaluations, if they are based on more than one year of learning, to be contextualized as reflecting an additional year, and educators must be notified, if their evaluation data has changed, of the extent to which the students the data is based on a instruction from another teacher
  • Waives the cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) requirement for graduation for another year
  • Provides a six-month extension for some teaching license applicants

The U.S. Department of Education required schools to administer standardized tests last spring or, if they applied, this fall instead of the spring. A federal waiver of accountability and school identification means the state can forgo identifying new schools in need of support based on the test results. The state did not have to ensure 95% of all students and 95% of every student subgroup were tested.

However, North Carolina still required some of the things the federal waiver temporarily got rid of.

Before Monday, the state still required annual state and school report cards, school performance grades, accountability systems for alternative schools, and identifying low-performing and continually low-performing schools and administrations.

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