Iredell-Statesville Schools Superintendent Jeff James didn’t mince his words as he discussed his support for overhauling the State of North Carolina’s system for evaluating students and public schools.

He’s not a fan.

Jeff James

“We have to redesign how we grade students,” James said during Monday’s Board of Education meeting. “How is giving an end-of-grade test validation to the great work that our teachers do and our kids do? No one else is evaluated that way. You are constantly evaluated in any job you are at on a daily basis.”

The grading system has been criticized by educators and elected officials because it doesn’t adequately measure and reward student growth. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt is among those advocating for change.

According to Truitt’s plan, a school would receive four grades: a proficiency grade, a progress grade, a readiness grade and an opportunity grade. Each indicator would be a stand-alone grade, replacing the current system which assigns a single letter grade (A-F) for each school.

James told the Board that the current system, based entirely on standardized test scores, not only affects public and parent perception, but can be far reaching in the economy of the local community. It hurts communities across the state and the state as a whole, he said.

Businesses considering relocating to North Carolina look at the quality of life for their employees and the local schools in each community they are considering. The performance grade that schools receive each year can play a big part in that company’s assessment of the community and in state comparisons.

The tests — and the state’s grading system — are a measure of poverty as much as anything else, the superintendent said.

“Last year, when I presented my data, any school that was free and reduced (lunch) over 50 percent, there were only two (with) letter grades As in the state,” James said. “The rest were Ds and Fs. Those two As were specialty schools. One was a magnet school and one was an early college magnet — completely different model than what we typically do.”

According to National Assessment for Educational Performance (NAEP) data, Florida has very few Ds and Fs, but North Carolina is outperforming them in many areas, including fourth- and eighth-grade math.

Although many I-SS students are making a lot of growth and moving forward, the schools’ grades don’t reflect that, James explained.

“We are penalizing our poverty schools and it’s not fair to those teachers. It’s disappointing to those teachers to work your tail off every day. Then you get ranked by the state as a D or F school,” he said. “That doesn’t make you want to come to work the next day.

“The growth is a true measure of how you impact a kid,” he added. “You do a pretest and then you do a post test. The gains in the test are really the growth that you have instilled upon students with your teaching techniques.”


In other matters, board member Abby Trent spoke about board member conduct. She explained that board members are supposed to model civility and integrity and always consider students as the first priority.

Trent asked the board to consider adding a censure item regarding board member Michael Kubiniec’s “unbecoming behavior” to the agenda for the next meeting. Following a vote at the June 10 meeting, Kubiniec openly used profanity.

Chairman Bill Howell said that it would be added to the agenda and discussed at that time.

During the public comment period, several speakers shared their concerns about board member behavior, proposed legislative changes regarding gender identity and bullying at Statesville High School.

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