The 2017-18 school performance grades are in, and it’s mixed bag of good news and bad. Meanwhile, education leaders continue to promise improvements in academic performance.
All 2,537 of the state’s public schools are graded on an A-F scale based on testing scores and growth. The state adopted the accountability model in 2013.
Changes were made to the state’s accountability measurements in accordance with the Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires compliance in exchange for federal dollars. The changes mean school performance grades, growth results, and graduation rates for 2017-18 aren’t comparable to previous years.
Calculating individual student performance on the End-of-Grade and End-of-Course exams hasn’t changed, so grade level proficiency and college and career readiness can be compared with past results.
More than a third of N.C. public schools scored an A or a B, while about 22 percent received a D or an F. Charter schools held a slightly greater percentage of As and Bs than their district counterparts, but they also had a higher share of F schools.
The two state virtual charter schools received Ds and failed to meet growth.
The number of low-performing schools dropped from 505 in 2016-17 to 476, as did the number of recurring low-performing schools — from 468 to 435. Eight districts are considered low-performing, compared to 11 in 2016-17.
“The fact that fewer schools and districts are underperforming is positive news in this year’s accountability report,” state Superintendent Mark Johnson said. “We thank teachers and school leaders for their hard work and hope that more effective support from DPI will continue to improve those numbers.”
Terry Stoops, vice president of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation, said school performance grades are somewhat inflated.
“School performance grades are still calculated using a generous 15-point grading scale, rather than the conventional 10-point scale that most schools use for student grades,” Stoops said.
For example, Stoops said, the number of A schools drops from 185 to 91 and the number of F schools increases from 92 to 860 if recalculated using the standard 10-point scale.
School grades continued to track with poverty levels. Of schools in which more than 80 percent of students came from a low-income household, 69 percent got a D or F. School performance improved in schools with less than 20 percent of its students from low-income families. Only 1.7 percent of those schools earned a D or F.
Graduation rates also dropped for the first time in years. The rate for 2017-18 was 86.3 percent, down from 86.5 percent the previous year.
Student test results show improvements in some areas, but declines in others. The EOC high school biology test scores improved, but the percent scoring proficient in English II and N.C. Math I dropped from the previous year.
There was a slight decrease in grades three through eight for reading for the 2016-17 year, but the percentage reaching College and Career Readiness rose from 45.5 to 46 in 2017-18. The mathematics performance increased from 47.6 percent to 48.1 percent college- and career-ready.
The percentage of students in grades three through eight reaching grade-level proficiency in mathematics increased from the previous year, but also decreased for reading.
The performance of third-grade students on their end-of-grade reading exams has continually decreased since 2013. In 2012, lawmakers established the Read to Achieve program to help students become proficient in reading by the end of third grade. For the 2013-14 school year, 60.2 percent of third graders were scoring proficient on their reading exams. By 2017-18, that dropped to 55.9 percent.
In March, Johnson announced every K-3 reading teacher would receive $200 to buy literary supplies. More recently, Johnson directed $6 million to buy iPads for K-3 literacy teachers.
“We know that students learn best when instruction is tailored to their needs,” Johnson said. “So, we’re adjusting our supports for educators at the state level to help make that happen. Teachers are working hard and our state must transform our system to complement their efforts.”
One way the state has looked to transform the system is through the Innovative School District. Southside Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County became the first school to take part in the program to turn around chronic low performance.
Two to four low-performing schools will join Southside Ashpole next year. The list of qualifying schools has been narrowed to six — four rural and two urban.
They are: Carver Heights Elementary in Wayne County Public Schools, Gaston Middle in Northampton County Schools, Hillcrest Elementary in Alamance Burlington Schools, Williford Elementary in Nash-Rocky Mount Schools, Fairview Elementary in Guilford County Schools, and Hall-Woodward Elementary in Forsyth County Schools.
Lindsay Marchello is associate editor of the Carolina Journal.