News: CJ Exclusives

House Education Committee approves two bills changing school performance grades

Lawmakers in the House are working to give the Senate some options for changing how school performance grades are calculated, including one change that would split the single performance grade into two separate grades for achievement and growth.

The House K-12 Education Committee approved a couple of school performance grade bills during its Tuesday, March 19, meeting.

Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, said it’s good that the House is moving on this issue, especially considering the Senate’s inaction on legislation to change the school performance grading model.

“The Senate hasn’t been willing to budge on this at all,” Meyer said.

Democratic Senators introduced legislation to create two separate school performance grades earlier in March. Senate Bill 176 was sent to the Senate Rules Committee on March 5 and is still there.

A bipartisan group of House members want to change how the state grades schools. Schools now are awarded a letter grade based on achievement and growth. The grades are weighted 80 percent for achievement and 20 percent for growth. Schools that have low student achievement and continuously fail to meet growth are labeled low performing.

Critics of the 80/20 school performance formula have long argued the model stigmatizes schools that predominantly serve economically disadvantaged students.

“If we don’t change these numbers, or we don’t get a better system, all we’re ever going to know is that we have low-wealth schools,” said Rep. Linda Johnson, R-Cabarrus, one of the chairs of the committee.

House Bill 354 is a bipartisan bill to modify the weighting of the school achievement and growth score. Instead of an 80/20 split, achievement and growth would be weighted 50/50.

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, is one of the bill’s primary sponsors. Horn said an incremental change is easier to accomplish than a wholesale change to the school grading system.

Meyer said while he appreciates Horn’s bill, he thinks lawmakers should be bolder and adopt a more complex formula for grading schools.

“I think we can be much more audacious than just changing the formula to 50/50,” Meyer said. “When you look around the country, the states that are considered to have the best rating scales have systems that are much more complex than this.”

Meyer said lawmakers need to consider what they want to encourage in schools. For example, he said a lot of states have a component in their grading formulas rating how quickly schools are moving up the bottom 25 percent of students.

“They get double weighted in the formula, for instance,” Meyer said. “So schools really have to pay attention to the most struggling kids.”

While H.B. 354 would be an incremental change, House Bill 266 aims to completely change the model. H.B. 266 would create two school performance grades, one for achievement and the other for growth. The bill would establish a 15-point grading scale for achievement, and a 10-point grading scale for growth.

Rep. Dennis Riddell, R-Alamance, a primary sponsor of H.B. 266, said lawmakers don’t have to choose between one bill or the other. Riddell is also a sponsor of H.B. 354.

“I would encourage you to look at it this way. We need to give a lot of suggestions to the Senate that we need to address the school performance ratio as it currently is,” Riddell said.

Bills similar to H.B. 354 and H.B. 266 have passed in the House years ago, but have failed to gain traction in the Senate. Riddell told his colleagues they should send a whole menu of ideas regarding school performance grades to the other chamber.

The committee unanimously approved H.B. 354 and H.B. 266. The bills now go to the House Rules Committee.