Mulberry Elementary School on N.C. 18 North was in the spotlight Monday when N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore included it on a statewide tour to learn more about the impact of the state’s new letter grade school rating system.

Moore, a Republican from Kings Mountain, is visiting schools representative of each of the five letter grades assigned under the system, said Rep. Jeffrey Elmore of Wilkesboro, chairman of the House Committee on Education K-12.

Elmore said that for Moore’s tour, Mulberry Elementary represented schools assigned a “C” letter grade. Moore visited a school in Cabarrus County assigned a “D” and a school in Union County assigned an “A.”

Elmore, a Republican, said Moore will also visit schools  in the state assigned a “B” and an “F.”

He said going to Mulberry also provided Moore a chance to to visit a Title I school, which are schools that are eligible for additional federal financial assistance because at least half of the students are from households that live at or below the national poverty level. All Wilkes public schools are now Title 1 schools.

Elmore teaches K-5 art education at Mulberry and North Wilkesboro elementary schools and went with Moore on the tour of Mulberry Elementary on Monday. Also on the tour were Rep. Hugh Blackwell, Republican from Morganton, chairman of the House Committee on Education Appropriations and vice chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Education Oversight; Mark Byrd, interim Wilkes school superintendent; and Ritchie Cornette, principal at Mulberry.

For Elmore, Byrd and Cornette, the visit was a chance to emphasize that the letter grade system doesn’t accurately portray successes in the public schools because 80 percent of a school’s grade is based on how students score on standardized tests and 20 percent is based on the extent to which students achieve expected annual academic growth, based on prior testing results.

Interviewed on Tuesday, they said there is interest in basing the letter grades on 50 percent testing proficiency and 50 percent on annual academic growth to give more credit for improvement.

 “The point we want to make is that we wish the formula weighed growth more,” said Byrd.

Elmore said having test proficiency account for 80 percent of the school letter grade doesn’t accurately reflect the accomplishments of teachers.

He said there was talk about basing grades on a 10-point scale instead of the current 15-point scale, which would make it harder for schools to get higher grades. Elmore said it will remain a 15 point scale at least one more year.

On Monday, the group visited first, fourth and fifth grade classrooms at Mulberry. Cornette said going to a first grade classroom gave Moore and Blackwell a chance to see a teacher assistant at work and understand better the importance of funding teacher assistants.

The teacher assistant in the first grade class they visited was teaching the class while the teacher administered an individualized test to a student in the classroom.

Loss of state funds for teacher assistants has been a controversial issue in Raleigh recently.

Moore said in a press release, “It’s important to see and hear first-hand how policy and funding that we implement at the state level, including the new rating model, impacts our North Carolina schools.

He added, “The A-F school rating system simplified the measuring of success in our schools, but it is clear that the metrics could be improved. Mulberry Elementary is loved by its community and is led by a passionate facility, including my friend and colleague Jeff Elmore. It is a school that shows great improvement despite socio-economic obstacles, and yet still hovers at an average rating. While it’s important to measure how well our students are performing, we need to also gauge their growth from the point they enter the classroom at the beginning of the school year to when they exit the classroom at the end of the school year.”

 Cornette said it was a thrill to have Moore and Blackwell visit Mulberry.

 “They openly interacted with our students and teachers during the visit making us all feel like our voices matter. We were given the opportunity to share with them some of the great things that are happening in public education today.”

About visiting the first grade classroom, Moore said, “There was a great moment on our tour when we caught a teaching assistant leading a class while the teacher was conducting a personal student evaluation.”

He added, “We are often criticized for our extended session last year, but the House knows the value of teaching assistants and fought long and hard to preserve and protect those important positions. To better achieve personalized learning and improve student outcomes, North Carolina needs teaching assistants.”

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