RALEIGH (August 16, 2021) – North Carolina’s school performance grade system, ostensibly intended to inform policy and identify opportunity gaps, has instead led to needless stigmatization of schools that serve Black, Brown, and Native students, a new report finds.
School performance grade systems (SPGs) assign every school an A-F letter grade as a measure of school quality but often rely on narrow test-based measures of quality with limited validity, seldom informing policymaking or how schools operate, according to a new report from the NC Justice Center’s Education & Law Project. Instead, such systems all too frequently stigmatize schools for community conditions outside of the school’s control.
“North Carolina’s A-F SPG system disproportionately assigns failing grades to schools that serve students from families with low incomes as well as those that enroll Black, brown, and Native students,” said Kris Nordstrom, Senior Policy Analyst with the Education & Law Project and author of the report. “Instead of flawed grading systems, we need policy solutions that directly seek to remove the unique barriers that society creates for all of these students.”
The report includes personal accounts from education leaders across the state whose schools have received “failing” grades, which do not account for less quantifiable data points, such as community involvement, parental outreach, engaged instruction, and the commitment of teachers and staff.
Since the inception of North Carolina’s A-F SPG system, the report finds, lawmakers have made no efforts to target resources or implement school improvement strategies that would meaningfully benefit students of color or students from families with low incomes. At the same time, they have resisted any reforms to the system that they know stigmatizes schools based on student demographics.
North Carolina is not alone in relying on a discriminatory SPG model to rate (or stigmatize) its schools, but other states and countries have created systems that are more effective at holding schools “accountable,” providing useful information to families as well as informing policy. North Carolina should adopt alternative approaches that move beyond simple test-based measures, the report says, and have the potential to create actionable data to inform policymakers and school leaders alike in strategies and practices that can boost student performance and lift opportunities for all students.
“It isn’t clear why lawmakers continue to support such a flawed SPG system,” Nordstrom said. “Ultimately, the precise motivation is less important than the tangible impact: North Carolina’s SPG system needlessly stigmatizes schools enrolling students of color and those from families with low incomes. The system is not being used to inform policy, nor does it provide useful information for parents or school leaders. It causes harm and must be abandoned.”