The factors that go into grading public schools in North Carolina would change under a set of recommendations proposed by an advisory panel in the Department of Public Instruction. The recommendations were presented to the N.C. House Education Committee on Tuesday.

The current A-F performance grades for schools are based almost entirely on student scores on the state’s standardized year-end exams. Eighty-percent of the weight is on state incomes and 20% on growth scores for students in other areas. But the proposed changes would include a number of additional factors in assessing whether a school is succeeding or failing.

Under the current system, nearly half of the state’s public schools received failing grades of an F or D during the last school year.

The School Performance Grade Redesign Advisory Group was commissioned last fall to assess the question of “what indicators yield a clear and accurate representation of a high-quality school in North Carolina.” The task force was specifically supposed to investigate factors that go beyond end-of-grade tests.

“This work is important because we want to make sure that the formula used to determine school quality is more encompassing and inclusive of measures beyond just how a student performs on a test,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt in a statement. “This work has allowed us to examine the other indicators that could be used to help paint a more complete picture of school quality.”

The preliminary recommendations from the advisory group include eight potential indicators to evaluate schools more broadly:

  • Five-year cohort graduation rate: The percentage of students who fulfill graduation requirements within five years of entering ninth grade.
  • Chronic absenteeism: The percentage of students who exceed a specified number of absences deemed to be chronic.
  • Improvement in student group performance: Measures of subgroups performance as defined by growth targets and actual outcomes.
  • Post-secondary inputs for elementary, middle, and high school: Percentage of students who participate in career exploration activities, have a career development plan, and fulfill at least one of a defined list of post-secondary preparation programs, classes, and certifications.
  • Post-secondary outcomes: Percentage of graduates who are enrolled in a post-secondary institution, enlisted in the military, or employed.
  • Extra- or intra-curricular activities: Percentage of students who participate in at least one extra-curricular or intra-curricular activity.
  • Durable skills: Informed by the developing rubrics for the competencies defined by the Portrait of a Graduate initiative.
  • School climate: Possibly by a student, teacher, and parent survey.

“The system North Carolina uses to assign school performance grades is imperfect,” said Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “There is always going to be a discussion about the proper weighting of test results and academic growth. I’m hesitant to embrace the new factors DPI recommends to include in school performance grades. While the information is interesting and might be worthy of including in documents for school grades, a lot of the indicators are gauzy and don’t directly relate to the mission of a school, which is to educate students.”

The advisory panel is still working to finalize the recommendations.