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Transparency, improved accountability proposed by education superintendent

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(The Center Square) – Increased transparency and improved low-performing schools are the focus of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s new school accountability model.

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said Monday the department will request legislation during the short session that begins in April to overhaul the state’s school letter grade system. There will be no additional funding in the request, she told the Select Committee on Education Reform in the House of Representatives.

The move is motivated in part by analysis of student test results that show North Carolina is “overidentifying low performing schools” in comparison to other states through a system that relies 80% on proficiency scores and 20% on growth.

Five staff at the Department of Public Instruction are tasked with reviewing about 500 school improvement plans each year, with no means to ensure those plans are implemented. About 47% of the state’s 1,267 elementary schools, 52% of 694 middle schools, and 23% of 634 high schools are rated a D or F, Truitt said.

“The department has no authority to require those schools to accept help,” she said. “Those plans sit in cyber space and no one is … ensuring the principal is carrying out that school improvement plan.”

The model provides “an incomplete picture of how schools are preparing students for the future” and is confusing for parents, as well as lawmakers attempting to gauge return on investment, Truitt said.

“Parents need to understand better what it means their neighborhood school is low performing,” she said.

The Department of Public Instruction is proposing to shift from a single letter grade to four performance grades that would separate current metrics on academics and progress. It would add new measures of “readiness” and “opportunity” with slightly different metrics for elementary, middle and high schools.

Measures for academics and progress would remain largely the same, while the new readiness category would center on the percentage of students pursuing or implementing career development plans and the outcomes after graduation.

“We want to know you have a trajectory for the future,” said Andrew Smith, assistant state superintendent. “To me, this is the culmination of 13 years of education and all the funding we put in education.”

The fourth measure on “opportunity” would add new metrics gleaned from a reworked teacher school climate survey, chronic absenteeism data and available intra- and extracurricular activities.

State officials will ask lawmakers to approve a single piece of legislation to implement the new system as a pilot program for districts that volunteer while running the current model for all others next fall. The department hopes to use both models for all schools in the second year, then transition all schools to the new model the following year.

Truitt said the new accountability model was crafted with help from national experts and vetted through working groups and over 50 local superintendents and charter school leaders. The Department of Public Instruction is also working to revamp the state’s school accountability website to better explain the system to parents, she said.

Truitt said officials will “ask for authority in year two to push into schools the way interventionists push into classrooms to help children in need.”

Initial data from the new system will dictate what additional resources the department may request at that time, Truitt said.

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