You may have seen headlines lately about how U.S. lawmakers have voted to ease school accountability reporting requirements for states by nixing the Obama administration’s regulations that were written to help states comply with the federal law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

But if you thought that meant North Carolina’s A-F school grading system in its current form wouldn’t have to be amended after all in order to be federally compliant—well, you’re wrong, according to the NC Department of Public Instruction’s director for federal policy, Lou Fabrizio.

“We’d still will have to either amend the A-F school grades legislation or have two separate accountability systems,” in order to comply with federal law as set forth last year in ESSA.

In addition to Congress’ vote earlier this month to rescind the accountability reporting rules, Education Week reports that the U.S. Department of Education also “reduced what states must report to the federal government about their plans for holding schools accountable.”

These two actions mean that states will have an easier time putting together the plans they must submit to the federal government demonstrating what they will do to ensure schools are compliant with federal law when it comes to accountability.

But Fabrizio says none of what has transpired at the federal level actually changes the provisions in the law that require a state accountability system to meet certain standards—and North Carolina’s current accountability model, the controversial A-F school grading system, doesn’t meet those federal standards.

Here’s what’s missing (and there’s more background in my December post here):

  1. a measure of progress in terms of how schools are helping English language learners achieve proficiency in English; and
  2. a measure of school quality and student success (examples include student and educator engagement, access and completion of advanced coursework, postsecondary readiness, school climate and safety).

House education chair Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) is sponsoring a bill that would amend the A-F school grading system to increase the weight of school growth in the calculation of these grades. Currently only 20 percent of a school’s grade takes into account students’ academic growth over time; 80 percent of a grade is how students perform on a test at one point in time.

Critics say the system doesn’t provide a window into how well a school is helping students progress, but instead is simply a proxy for poverty. Horn’s proposal would increase the “growth” component of the formula to 50 percent — which is considered real progress by some education advocates who want to see the A-F model more reflective of how a school is helping students.

But the bill doesn’t address the fact that North Carolina’s accountability model is not federally compliant because it doesn’t take up the missing measures related to helping English language learners and other key measures of school quality and student success.

Fabrizio says his team is working on drafting a proposal that would outline the changes necessary to bringing the A-F school grading system into federal compliance. He hopes the proposal will be ready by late May or early June — and that it will be something both the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent, Mark Johnson, will sign onto and ask lawmakers to do the same.


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