The long-awaited — and possibly much-dreaded — school grades will be released by the state next month.
A plan passed by the Republican-led General Assembly in 2013 calls for nearly school in the state to be assigned a letter grade, “A” though “F.”
Thirty-two Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools will receive a “D” or an “F.”
District officials, like many educators in the state, have taken issue with the way the state is calculating those grades. So Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools has come up with its own scale.
“We want to make a statement that we think the model the state is getting ready to release doesn’t reflect the areas we think need to be reflected,” Superintendent Beverly Emory said.
The district’s grading scale builds on the state’s, but bumps up a full letter grade those schools that met or exceeded expected growth for its students. It also adds a “plus” to the grades of high-poverty schools. That means a school with a high number of students at or below the poverty line that meets or exceeds its growth goals — but where few students pass end-of-year tests — would be bumped a full letter grade, with a plus. Therefore, a school under that scenario receiving a “D” from the state would get a “C+” under the district’s system.
“My biggest fear is making people who work like dogs feel like it hasn’t been worth anything,” Emory said.
That’s why the district has not only created its own grading scale, but also wants to pre-empt the state’s grade release Feb. 5. Administrators presented the plan Tuesday to the board of education’s curriculum committee and will be voted on by the full board next week. Should it pass, the district will assign each of its schools a letter grade a full week before the state.
“Our grades would go out before the state release, to pave the way for people to look at the things we’d like them to look at,” Emory said.
Those things are growth scores and poverty rates.
The district has some of the state’s poorest schools. The majority of students at 49 schools were living below the poverty line in the 2012-13 school year. At 28 of those schools, more than 85 percent of the student population fell in that category. High-poverty students are widely recognized as some of the most challenging to work with, since they often enter school behind their peers academically. The “plus” added to grades will be at those schools with poverty rates of 85 percent or higher.
While poverty is not considered in the state model, growth is. Still, district officials say it’s not given enough weight.
In the state model, proficiency — how many students passed end-of-grade tests in reading and math — makes up 80 percent of a school’s score. The other 20 percent is based on growth.
“We have … talked for years about a growth mindset here,” Emory said. “If we really want to honor that, we need to give people credit for growth.”
Forty-eight schools met or exceeded their expected growth for the school year, meaning that students made at least one year’s worth of academic gains. Under the district’s model, each of those schools receives a full letter grade bump — a proposal the district took from an early version of the state’s plan, which was part of the 2013 budget bill. That provision was cut from the bill’s final language.
“For the schools that made growth but had low proficiency, we feel like there needs to be more recognition for the work those folks are doing,” Emory said.
For the first year, the state is assigning letter grades on a 15-point scale — more generous that the state’s current seven-point scale on which students are graded and the 10-point scale it will move to next year. Any school that achieves an 85 or higher with its formula will be assigned an “A.”
To calculate those grades, the state uses a school’s proficiency score and its growth score. For high schools, several additional metrics are added to end-of-course scores, including ACT scores and graduation rates. The grading system, championed by state Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, is said to make it easier for parents to understand how schools are performing.
Based on the state’s model, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools would have eight “A” schools, 18 “B” schools, 18 “C” schools, 21 “D” schools and 11 “F” schools. Five schools did not receive grades, either because they were too small or serve special populations. Which schools fall into each category won’t be released until Feb. 5.
Under the district’s model, 20 schools would receive an “A”; two would get a “B+”; 15 a “B”; 11 a “C+”; 10 a “C”; six a “D+”; five a “D”; five an “F+”; and two an “F.”
“The grades are new, but the measures they’re based on — performance on state tests — is not new,” said Theo Helm, the district’s chief of staff. “These are things we’ve already released, shared with parents and the community. We are well aware of the areas where we’re struggling and trying to fix them.”
“We just want to present what we think is a more realistic view of how schools are doing.”