State releases first school report cards

Posted February 4, 2015
Updated February 6, 2015

— Mindy King does not want her school to be defined by a single letter.

King, a teacher and librarian at Vance Elementary in Raleigh, says the C her school received under the state’s new school report cards does not reflect the academic progress students are making.

North Carolina Education North Carolina school report cards

“I think the best word is misrepresentation,” she said about the report cards. “I think it's a very poor representation of what our children can do and what we can do.”

Nearly half of North Carolina’s public and charter schools received a C grade under the state’s new school report cards released Thursday.

Results from 2,424 of the state’s 2,565 public and charter schools show that 41 percent received a C grade, 24 percent received a B and 5.4 percent received an A, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) received a D and 6 percent received an F.

When broken down by public versus charter, charter schools have the most A schools (11.2 percent vs. 5.1 percent) and B schools (29.6 percent vs. 23.7 percent) while traditional schools have the most lower-graded schools.

“These grades are not as bad as many people thought they would be, and they’re not as good as we want them to be,” state Superintendent June Atkinson said. “They’re a starting point, and I have faith in our teachers.”

The new lawmaker-driven standards for grading public schools, which were passed amid concern from school leaders and teachers across the state, are meant to give parents and administrators an at-a-glance reference to see whether a school is doing its job. Schools receiving a D or F must send a letter to parents informing them of their grade.

North Carolina now joins 12 other states that assign A-F grades to schools.

"It gives some schools some incentive, I believe, to improve themselves, to know how they really stack up against other schools," said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, chairman of the House K-12 education committee. "There’s a lot of discussion as to whether the formula should be adjusted. But at least A, B, C, D and F, people have a much more definitive idea of how that school is performing and will make judgments accordingly."

Nearly every school receiving a D or F have high percentages of low-income students, Atkinson said.

“It’s pretty obvious what the report does to poverty measures,” state school board member Buddy Collins said. “I think what’s important to recognize is that this is a measurement, not a contest. There’s a lot of schools doing a lot of good work that should not be defined by letter grades.”

Each school’s performance grade is made up of two elements – achievement score (80 percent) and academic growth (20 percent). Elementary and middle school achievement scores are based on state test results. For high schools, achievement scores are based on state test results, graduation rates and student performance on the ACT.

A school’s final grade will be based on a 15-point scale for the 2013-14 school year: 

  • A = 85-100 
  • B = 70-84
  • C = 55-69
  • D = 40-54
  • F = 40 or less

A 10-point scale will be used for subsequent years.

When asked about the grading criteria, Atkinson said what determines a certain grade is relative.

“Instead of looking at the point spread, the big idea is looking at how one is in relation to another,” she said. “I believe it is important for the General Assembly, instead of going to the 10-point scale, to continue with the 15-point scale. One year does not a trend make. You need trends over time.”

Atkinson said she has visited classrooms where an F is a 75.

“Everyone knows what an A is and no one really knows what an A is,” she said. “And that’s the challenge of explaining the A-F system to the public.”

Ire from school leaders, teachers

The letter grade system was carved out of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s sweeping education reform package in 2012. The package was not passed in its entirety, but portions of it were rolled into the state budget and approved.

Proponents say the new accountability system exposes failing public schools in a way parents can easily understand.

Republican lawmakers approved the grading system in 2013 amid concern from Democrats that it would punish schools with a high percentage of low-income students. Those schools often have less resources than their more affluent peers, and opponents worry a low grade would deter potential teachers. 

"We’re troubled by early knee-jerk reactions that appear to condemn poor children to automatic failure," Berger said in a statement Thursday. "And we reject the premise that high poverty schools are incapable of excelling, since today’s report shows numerous examples that are proving that myth wrong. We must give these grades a chance to work so we can learn from them and improve outcomes for our children.” 

In an effort to change the new system, Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, filed Senate Bill 30 on Wednesday, which would make student growth count towards 60 percent of a school's overall grade. 

"We should measure what we value," Stein said. "The most important thing a school can do is to educate students. By increasing the weight on student growth, we will better know whether schools are teaching our students information over the course the year." 

Wake County Public School System Superintendent Jim Merrill expressed his displeasure with the new system in his State of the Schools address Wednesday.

“We never believed placing a single grade on a school made much sense,” he said. “It simply falls short of the mark…what they do not offer is an explanation of why the information logically translates to a single grade for an entire school.”

In response, the state's biggest school district released detailed progress reports for each school highlighting a number of factors, including state test results and results from teacher surveys on school climate and leadership.

“We feel this is a credible, transparent and logical way for parents to quickly appreciate the strengths and challenges of any school in our system,” Wake school board chairwoman Christine Kushner said in a statement.

Vance Elementary received high marks from teachers for its safe and supportive climate.

Those same teachers were displeased when their school’s grade was released.

“They groaned,” Principal Sarah Simmons said. “I told them you know we’re so much better than a C. Let’s talk about where we want to be and how we want to get there.”

Across North Carolina, school leaders fear a letter grade will paint an incomplete picture regarding their school’s academic progress because it's heavily based on test scores rather than balanced with student growth. They have asked lawmakers to reverse course on the grading system.

"We think our schools should be graded more on what they actually accomplish during the school year and where their students were starting from," said Durham Public Schools Superintendent Bert L'Homme during a January school board meeting. He described the new formula as “not fair.”

Giving letter grades to schools is a disservice to parents because it doesn’t provide details regarding the quality of a school, said North Carolina Association of Educators President Rodney Ellis, referring to a recent policy brief published by the National Education Policy Center. The study also said parents in states with grading systems are less likely to participate substantively in the education of their children.

Researchers recommended using a report card that has multiple indicators to reflect a school’s performance.

“Instead of focusing on A-F grades for our schools, we should be at the other end of the alphabet, S and T,” Ellis said. “Our attention should be on student success, small classes, textbooks, technology and teachers.”

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  • Tommy Swan Feb 8, 2015
    user avatar

    we've had democratic governors for the past 20 years before the current and only 3 republican governors in the past 100 years...... vote democratic: stay broke and stupid

  • BlahBlahBlahBlahBlah Feb 7, 2015

    Einstein says it better than anyone..

    "Education is what remains after one has forgotten what he has leaned in school"

    The children of NC are learning how to take a test..nothing that is what they are graded on.
    This is shameful to allow education to become this assembly line of tests.

  • BlahBlahBlahBlahBlah Feb 7, 2015

    These report cards are using only academia to grade these schools.

    Socrates himself said

    "Education is the kindling of a flame not the filling of a vessel"

  • BlahBlahBlahBlahBlah Feb 7, 2015

    The only way to grade any student is to grade on the progress from Point A to Point B.
    U if improvement is 0.
    No F's please.
    Satisfactory if improvement
    Subsets could include the Level of improvement.
    I want to know if our superintendent had anything to do with this ludicrous report card distribution.

  • BlahBlahBlahBlahBlah Feb 7, 2015

    View quoted thread

    Mistake Grade
    Simmons should have received an A plus.. sorry

  • BlahBlahBlahBlahBlah Feb 7, 2015

    View quoted thread

    How do you know?

  • wmp8396 Feb 6, 2015

    I did not notice any comments from schools which received an 'A' grade.

  • Jeremy Krause Feb 6, 2015
    user avatar

    And funding? I've been in WCPSS schools for nine years and we have not seen a single new textbook come out for any subject. Our science texts still list Pluto as a planet. That's becase they were published in 2004.

  • Jeremy Krause Feb 6, 2015
    user avatar

    No, we should not just "cut back" on welfare. If we want parents to get involved with their children's education we should make their public assistance check on a a sliding scale based on their child's school performance. if momma can't buy a pack of Newports then we'll see her get involved in her kids' education. I'm a teacher and time after time I talk to the parents of failing students who say "I asked him if he has any homework and he said 'no' so I told him he could go play video games." As if they never heard of checking inside a backpack. Or they don't know the hundreds of ways to get on-line and check the teacher's web site. Or they don't bother to read the weekly e-mail that every teacher in my school sends out to keep them informed.

  • Doug Pawlak Feb 6, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    I'm not sure what you're disagreeing with. Believe me, I support schools and they do cure ignorance. I have an issue with the excessive testing and the drilling for the excessive testing.