Redefinition of “low-performing” schools and creation of “low-performing” districts would intensify teaching to the test, pave way for state, charter takeovers
Buried in the just-released Senate budget proposal is a measure that would significantly expand the number of state-designated “low-performing schools.” It would also designate entire districts as “low-performing” if the majority of schools in a particular district are deemed “low-performing.” (Proposed Senate Committee Substitute to HB97 §115C-105.37;105.39A).
This shift extends the “test-and-punish” approach that has defined national education policy for the past decade, a policy that has had profoundly negative effects on schools and students while failing to produce significant improvements in student performance. It would create even more pressure for North Carolina schools to teach to the test, while paving the way for dramatic but counter-productive disruptions to schools and districts. We should all urge our legislators to reject it.
In the proposal, “low-performing” would be defined as receiving a D or an F on the A-F scale and not exceeding expected growth. In current law, the “low-performing” designation goes to schools that have a majority of students score below grade level on state tests and fail to meet expected growth. Under the new proposal, the numbers of designated low-performing schools would grow. Required performance levels would rise: under the current A-F scale, any school with less than 55 percent of students scoring at grade level will receive either a D or an F. In addition, under the new proposal meeting expected growth would not keep a D or F school from being designated low-performing. A school would have to exceed expected growth to avoid this label.
With an A-F grading scale shift from a 15 to a 10 point scale, as is currently scheduled for the 2016-17 school year, even more schools would be designated as “low-performing,” since any school with less than 70 percent of students scoring at grade level would receive a D or an F.
Current law (§ 115C-105.37A-B) requires significant intervention in schools that are designated as continually low-performing. Approved strategies include transformation (working with the existing school); restart (turning the school over to a charter); turnaround (replacing much of the school’s staff and administration), and closure. The last three strategies involve particularly dramatic disruptions, none of which has proven consistently effective in improving student outcomes.
The current proposal requires “low-performing” districts to develop plans for improvement. Across the country, however, a number of state legislatures have used the excuse of low performance to take over entire districts – Little Rock, Arkansas, is one recent example. Such efforts have been far from successful: although New Orleans’ Recovery School District is nearly a decade old, for example, in the 2013-14 school year half its schools were rated “D” or “F” on the state scale, and just over 12 percent of high school graduates met the state’s minimum ACT test score requirements for admission to state four-year colleges.
Similar efforts are likely to be proposed here in North Carolina. Stay tuned.