GCS Responds to School Performance Grades

Dismissing the state’s new grading system as misleading to the public and a potential distraction from the important work of teaching and learning in its schools, Guilford County Schools plans to keep its focus on the goals and measures outlined in its strategic plan.

Earlier this school year, the Guilford County Board of Education adopted a resolution calling for the repeal of the legislation that created the grading system, calling the new state system an “ill-conceived, ineffective and potentially damaging approach to addressing otherwise legitimate needs to provide parents and taxpayers with accurate indications of school performance.”

Any fair evaluation of the quality of a school requires looking at multiple measures of performance, not just one or two numbers, according to the Board’s resolution.

“Relying on one measure – e.g. standardized tests scores – for 80 percent of a School Performance Grade defies best practices in educational evaluation and research, and severely limits the impact of yearly growth (what a student learns in a year),” the resolution states.

State Superintendent June Atkinson agrees, noting that the first round of letter grades illustrated the need for growth to play a role equal to performance. “Growth is the most important indicator of a school’s impact on students’ learning. I plan to work with legislators this session to see if we can modify the formula so that it provides a letter grade for both student achievement and growth.”

According to the state’s data, schools with greater poverty earned fewer As and Bs and earned more Cs, Ds and Fs than schools with less poverty. The table below shows the distribution of letter grades for schools reporting poverty at 50 percent or more of their students and for schools reporting poverty less than 50 percent of their students.        


The graph shows that every school in the state that received Ds and Fs had the highest concentrations of poverty. Data also shows that many of these so-called “failing” schools also had the highest rates of growth in student learning.

As required by state legislation, the School Performance Grades for elementary and middle schools are based 80 percent on the school’s achievement score and 20 percent on students’ academic growth. Some additional measures are included in the grading formula for high schools.

Schools that fail to meet academic growth are not penalized in the grading system, although schools that make high growth but do not meet the proficiency standards on the new state exams are.

“In GCS, we expect our students to perform well academically, and this labeling system doesn’t change that,” says Nora Carr, chief of staff. “However, as part of our strategic plan, we also focus on character education, service learning, the visual and performing arts, participation and performance in rigorous coursework, such as the type provided in our Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes, and other important areas that aren’t measured by standardized tests.”

School Performance Grades are included on the North Carolina School Report Cards (www.ncpublicschools.org/src) under the School Performance Section. Each school’s academic performance page includes the school’s performance grade and student performance on other academic measures. K-8 schools also receive a separate letter grade for reading and math performance.

“One letter grade cannot reflect all of the positive things happening in a school. It’s important for parents to talk to a school’s principal and teachers and to look at all of the school measures reflected in the North Carolina School Report Cards to determine how their child’s school is doing in comparison to others in the district and across the state,” Atkinson said.