News: CJ Exclusives

School scores show continued progress overall, low-income schools still lagging

Charter schools get more high and low grades than traditional district schools

The State Board of Education released a slew of data during its September board meeting, and while the numbers show higher graduation rates and overall improvement in school performance, significant challenges over low performers and poverty rates remain.

Nearly every school in North Carolina each year receives a letter grade — ranging from A to F — based on student achievement and growth.

The majority of all schools earned a C or higher, with 3.5 percent getting the highest grade — A +NG. A +NG schools don’t have a significant achievement or graduation gap. Only 3.8 percent of schools earned an A. Schools with a B grade made up 28.5 percent of all schools, while 41.6 percent received a C grade.

On the other end of the grading scale, 18.7 percent of schools earned a D and 4 percent received an F. The number of schools getting both grades dropped from last year, while schools scoring a B or higher increased.

Public charter schools had a higher percentage of A/A +NG and B grades, totaling 43.9 percent compared to 35.2 percent of district schools. However, charter schools also had a higher share of D and F grades with 25.2 percent compared with 22.5 percent of district schools.

Public schools set a record graduation rate for the 12th consecutive year: 86.5 percent of students graduated within four years of entering ninth grade. The percentage rose from 85.9 percent for the 2015-16 school year.

“The graduation rate is at an all-time high, and the school letter grades continue to give parents an easy-to-understand way to chart progress and compare schools,” Bill Cobey, chairman of the State Board of Education, said in a press release.

The state superintendent of public schools, Mark Johnson, echoed Cobey’s words.

“It’s great news that the top-line trends are in the right direction. We can all be proud, for instance, that most schools meet or exceed growth,” Johnson said. “But deeper into the data, the results show stubborn concerns that call out for innovative approaches.”

While graduation rates and school performance grades improved, the number of low-performing schools and districts also increased.

In the 2015-16 school year, 489 schools and 10 districts were identified as low-performing. Of the 489 schools, 415 were designated as recurring low-performing schools. In 2016-17, the ranks of low performing schools rose to 505 and districts to 11. Recurring low-performing schools totaled 468.

A connection between poverty rates and low-performing schools continues, as schools with 50 percent or more of their students living at or below the poverty line earned more Cs, Ds, and Fs than schools with lower poverty rates.

“There are great teachers in North Carolina, but we don’t have the resources in so many of our schools, we don’t have the professional development because there is no money for professional development,” Lisa Godwin, the N.C. Teacher of the Year board advisor, said. “I’m just urging the legislators to hear my cry and from teachers across the state that we need help to help our children.”

The General Assembly launched a new strategy in 2016 to help low performing schools called the Innovative School District, giving control of some of North Carolina’s lowest performing schools for five years to charter school management.

Eric Hall, the Innovative School District superintendent, revealed 48 schools that qualify for the program. Hall will continue to work over the next month to narrow the list. The board will pick the schools by December.

“We’ve got to use this as an opportunity to start partnering and collaborating in ways that we have not done before,” Hall said.