Raleigh school celebrates academic progress but says C grade 'does not define who we are'
Posted September 4, 2019 6:48 p.m. EDT
Updated September 5, 2019 6:45 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina released A through F performance grades for all 2,500-plus public schools Wednesday. Statewide, schools scored slightly higher on average in 2018-19 than the previous year, but the letter grades don't always paint a complete picture of how much students are learning at a school.
Fox Road Magnet Elementary School in Raleigh has won national honors as an international baccalaureate school. Its student proficiency rate has doubled over the past few years, and it has exceeded students' academic growth expectations every year. But it only received a C grade last school year.
That’s because the formula for school letter grades is weighted heavily in favor of test scores – 80 percent – rather than student growth – 20 percent. For schools like Fox Road with a lot of students from disadvantaged families, that can mean lower letter grades, even if their students are achieving high growth.
"That C does not define who were are," said Fox Road teacher Betsy Jordan, Wake County schools' 2018-19 Teacher of the Year. "I've seen students transform that were timid and passive, and now they're eager to share their voice becuase we value their voice here at Fox Road."
Parent Chris Toller said he has seen that transformation in his third-grader, Ana. Since coming to Fox Road, she has been more willing to try new things. Toller doesn’t care much about the school’s letter grade.
"Whatever the grade is, it's not capturing the whole picture," he said. "It's not seeing the relationships built with students. It's really hard to measure things like my daughter's self confidence."
All North Carolina public schools, including charter schools, have received A through F letter grades since 2013-14, when the General Assembly passed legislation requiring it. Schools are also judged on whether their students exceeded, met or did not meet academic growth expectations during the year.
More than a third of North Carolina's approximately 2,500 public schools received a performance grade of A or B last school year and 28 percent of all schools exceeded academic growth expectations.
North Carolina's proportion of schools earning As and Bs has increased by 7.9 percentage points since 2013, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. During those same six years, the percentage of schools with Ds and Fs has fallen by 7.4 points to 21.7% in 2018-19.
Critics of the grading system, including the Public School Forum of North Carolina, say school grades are more indicative of which schools have the highest concentrations of students living in poverty than how well educators are teaching children.
In a statement Wednesday, Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said "reducing the entire educational experience to a single letter grade has always been a futile endeavor."
“Instead of going through this A-F labeling exercise year after year, we should be giving our educators and students the resources they need to be successful, rather than wasting precious time and money on a punitive grading system that relies on high-stakes testing," Jewell wrote.
Last year, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction reported that schools with lower levels of poverty were more likely to earn As and Bs. Among schools where more than 81 percent of students came from low-income families, 69 percent of the schools received a D or F in 2017-18. In schools with poverty rates between 61 and 80 percent, 45 percent of the schools received a D or F.
The state education agency did not include those figures in this year's school performance report. DPI spokesman Todd Silberman said the agency plans to release poverty charts on Thursday. He said the agency's Accountability Services Division decided against including that information in this year’s report "in part to limit the length of the report and also because the information has showed little change over time."
"The decision was made by Accountability Services without input from the State Board of Education or the state superintendent," Silberman wrote.
In Wake County, Chief Academic Officer Edward McFarland said his district focuses more on data trends instead of the one-year snapshot DPI sends out.
“Certainly, we are encouraged and pleased with increases in proficiency rates, and in the increased number of schools meeting the state's growth expectations," McFarland said in a statement. "We recognize that year-to-year comparison data provides only a singular progress snapshot. As a district, we focus on data trends over longer periods of time to help us make decisions around curricular offerings and instructional delivery."
At Fox Road Elementary, Principal Bob Lewis says his school has made academic progress in part because it has strong community support.
"We are proud of the strides we have made to improve our test scores in my seven years as principal. But rising scores are just one byproduct of our efforts to not only teach students but inspire them, regardless of any challenges they may be facing," Lewis said. "We continuously engage with our parents and the surrounding community."