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Truitt: Testing-based formula for grading schools needs improvement

Catherine Truitt, state superintendent of public instruction. Photo by NCDPI

According to Catherine Truitt, N.C. superintendent of Public Instruction, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to underscore the limited nature of North Carolina’s accountability on public schools. She spoke about the challenges students still face and what is being done to fix the problems at Tuesday’s Council of State meeting.

Truitt said many schools in the state are still dealing with being designated, both on a federal and state level, as low performing due to poor end-of-grade testing during school closures that occurred during the pandemic.

The accountability model uses a formula that looks at how students performed in grades 3 through 8 and then again in a couple of courses in high school on high-stakes end-of-grade testing. The scores from that test make-up 80% of the school’s A-F letter grade, and the other 20% comes from how the scores have improved compared to prior years.

She said while they agree that testing is important and is still required by the federal government in their federal accountability model, more is needed to determine a school’s quality based on testing.

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“To illustrate that point, our statewide principal of the year, Dr. Patrick Greene of Greene County has 54 teachers in his high school,” Truitt said. “Six of them teach a tested subject, which means that his school’s letter grade, which is supposed to be indicative of school quality, is determined by six out of 54 teachers at his school. So clearly, this is a flawed model. We’ve had this model for about 12 years, and it’s been a part of my strategic plan, Operation Polaris, to work to change this model.”

Truitt said they partnered with EdNC in October and did a statewide survey. They received 19,000 responses. Over 80% of those who responded, 45% of whom were parents, said that while testing does need to be considered, there should be other indicators of school quality.

“We continue with an advisory group that is bipartisan and utilizes expertise of not just K-12, but also our partners in higher ed and business to look at what our testing and accountability system should look like and what those metrics should be,” she said. “Should we be looking at things like chronic absenteeism, availability of tutoring at school, family satisfaction surveys, teacher satisfaction surveys, do teachers feel valued at their school, do parents feel like the school is a place where they are welcomed and can get their concerns and questions addressed in a timely manner?”

Truitt said they look forward to presenting a new slate of measures to the General Assembly during the long session and will keep the Council of State updated.

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