North Carolina’s Annual School Performance Report was released late last week. Reporters and researchers will be pouring over the data in the weeks and months ahead because there is plenty to digest. After a quick review, several points stand out.
Only 35.5 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 met Career and College Readiness Standards for both math and reading. The number of grade-level proficient students in both math and reading (45.9 percent) increased slightly from last year (45 percent). In other words: less than half of all students in grades 3 through 8 are proficient in math and reading appropriate for their grade level.
A little more than a quarter of North Carolina’s 2,500 plus public schools all schools (26.3 percent) did not meet “Expected Growth Goals,”about the same percent as last year (26.4 percent).
While there have been improvements, what is troubling is the slow pace of improvement and a variety of similarly disturbing trends. Student proficiency in too many subjects continues to decline as students progress by grade level, improvement by low-performing schools is slow and despite many efforts, achievement gaps remain.
From 2016 Performance and Growth of North Carolina Public Schools, Executive Summary, September 7, 2017. North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
The 2013-14 General Assembly created a program that assigned A-F grades to public schools based on an albeit imperfect formula that creates composite scores from a weighting of test scores (80 percent) and academic growth (20 percent). Composite scores are then translated to a 15- point grading scale (A =100-85; B =84-70 and so on).
How did public schools in North Carolina fare? The percentage of all public schools receiving an A or B grade increased from 29.4 percent in 2015-16 to 35.2 percent. The number of schools receiving D or F grade, declined from 22.9 percent in 2016 to 22.5 percent this year. If we compare traditional public and charter schools, charter schools had a higher percentage of A and B schools (43.5 percent vs. 35.2 percent), but also a slightly higher percentage of D and F schools (25.2 percent to 22.5 percent).
While this is interesting information, there are problems with the way North Carolina assigns grades to public schools. The shortcomings of the current formula have been pointed out numerous times. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the effect of the 15-point grading scale is to lower standards and lower the floor for failure. How else do you understand moving the cutoff off line for failure from 69 to 39 or less?
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and press reports have been quick to tout improvements in the state’s graduation rate. While it’s true the state’s four-year high school cohort graduation rate (86.5 percent) has increased for the 12th consecutive year, we’d be remiss if we ignored disturbing trends that are working to take the shine off that accomplishment. One of the stated goals of the new Common Core State Standards was to prepare students for careers and college readiness. The performance of North Carolina students on national tests is troubling. Less than 6 in 10 (58 percent) of students who took the ACT exam have met the SBE goal of a minimum ACT score of 17.
Student performance on individual ACT benchmark tests is also disappointing. This year’s scores are similar to last year’s within a percentage point or two. Still, less than half of students met the English benchmarks, 30 percent of students met math benchmarks and only 27 percent met science benchmarks.