New school accountability measure in the works for N.C. schools

Catherine Truitt addresses the council of state on Feb 1 2022. Photo by Maya Reagan, Carolina Journal

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  • The North Carolina Council of State meets once a month to deliver updates on state agencies. The council is made up of ten elected leaders of departments within the executive branch, plus the Governor, Lt. Governor, the Secretary of State, the State Treasurer, and the State Auditor.

Editor’s note: This article has been edited to reflect additional comments from DPI

Changes are on the way for the grading system that measures school quality and student success across North Carolina. N.C. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt spoke about the deficiencies of the current system at Tuesday’s Council of State meeting, held at the Department of Transportation, Raleigh.

DPI Spokesperson Blair Rhoades told Carolina Journal in an emailed statement that they wanted to make clear that it was the school performance grades and not the grading system at large that was being looked at.

In 2012, the state started giving out school report card grades to all K-12 schools. The report card grade is based on two scores: an algorithm of how students did on end-of-grade testing, which counts for 80%, and how much students grew in a year, making up the remaining 20%.

“There are a lot of things in education that people don’t always agree on,” she said.  “But the flawed system of determining that a school is an F, a D, a C, a B, or an A is one of the things everyone agrees on.”

Truitt said teachers, principals, superintendents, community college and higher ed experts, and Jordan Whichard, chief deputy secretary from the N.C. Department of Commerce, met with the National Center for Assessment to talk about other ways on how to determine what school quality is.

“Because an algorithm of 80% achievement and 20% growth does not speak to student success, and it does not speak to school quality,” Truitt said. “A parent needs to understand what they are looking at when they pull up their neighborhood school’s website and it says D or A. What does that mean? How does that speak to whether their student is going to be successful and whether or not that is a high-quality school?”

She said other measurements need to be looked at, like what a school is doing to combat chronic absenteeism. What is the school doing to ensure that students have access to Career and College Promise, where students can take community college courses and earn college credit while they are still in high school for free? What are schools doing to catch students up from the pandemic? Are parents satisfied with their child’s school? Do teachers report good things on school climate surveys?

“All of these things need to be included in how we define school quality,” Truitt added. “Right now, an 80/20 model that spits out a letter grade doesn’t do the job. So, we will be bringing forward to the General Assembly and, hopefully, eventually to your desk, Governor (Cooper), a new school accountability model this long session. So, stay tuned for more to come.”

Truitt added that Tyrell County children in K-2 are growing faster than the rest of the state in early literacy.

N.C. State Treasurer Dale Folwell reported to the council that the unfunded healthcare liability for the state fell last year by $7 billion.

“I would like to think that reduction of $7 billion of our unfunded healthcare liability was directly associated with things that we are doing,” he said. “Some of that was when we renegotiated our Medicare Advantage contract with $0 cost to the participant and $0 cost to the taxpayer. We renegotiated our pharmacy benefit contract by saving $850 million.”

Folwell said most of the reduction in the unfunded healthcare liability was the result of using a higher discount rate which no one has control over. Unfortunately, he added that the State Health Plan is going to need $5 billion over the next several years to stay afloat because of higher healthcare costs.

“When we are dealing with a healthcare cartel that doesn’t have transparent pricing when people get a bill and don’t know if they had an appendectomy or a tonsillectomy and where people’s credit scores are being weaponized,” Folwell told the council. “We are trying to stop all of this with the De-weaponization Act.”

New business creation in the state is starting to level off from record highs of 2020 and 2021, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall said in her update.

“For the first six months of 2021, we did 96,000, and for the first six months of 2022, we did 93,000, a drop of 3,000,” said Marshall. “We are still creating new business entities, corporations, LLC’s, and non-profits, somewhere between 650-700 a business day.”  

N.C. Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson told the council that the state is facing its own labor shortage like the private sector, where vacancies are reported to be over 20%.

“The workforce issue, not just in the private sector but within our own agencies is at the top of my list, I am sure it is on yours.,” he said. “We have to have an all options on the table approach to solving this because we are hemorrhaging good workers in our most hard-to-fill jobs. I look forward to working with you all and the General Assembly (in the long session) early next year.”