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Second slate of A-F grades yield similar concerns

The state released its second round of school performance — A-F — grades Tuesday, and the results mirrored last year’s, including similar concerns about the impact of poverty on performance.  

Of traditional public schools, 72.2 percent received a C or better. But of that, only 6.1 percent received an A. Most — 43 percent — received a C, and 23.2 percent got a B. 

Of charter schools, 70.4 percent also received a C or better, but a dive into the numbers shows that more charter schools got As — a little more than 13 percent — than traditional public schools. The largest percentage for charter schools that received a C or better came in the B category, with 35.2 percent receiving one. A little under 22 percent got a C. 

“I want to congratulate the schools for this performance,” said Superintendent June Atkinson.

Complicating this picture somewhat is a new designation being rolled out: A+NG. This designation is given to schools that received an A and “do not have any student achievement gaps that are larger than the largest average gap for the state overall,” according to the Department of Public Instruction‘s press release. When looking at schools that received this designation, only 2.5 percent of traditional public schools made the grade, while 8.5 percent of charter schools did. 

A total of 27.8 percent of traditional public schools received a D or worse, with only 5.6 percent actually getting an F. Of the charter schools, 29.6 percent got a D or worse, with 12.7 percent getting an F. 

The grades are calculated using a formula of 20 percent academic growth and 80 percent academic achievement, and they are based on a 15-point scale where 85 to 100 equals an A. 

When compared to last year’s grades, state schools slightly improved on their previous performance. A little more than 70 percent of all public schools — both charter and traditional — received a C or better last year, and about 72 percent did so this time. 

Schools with a high percentage of students in poverty were the stand out this year as well as last year. 

Of the schools that received Ds, about 94 percent had more than 50 percent of students in poverty (“poverty” is the term used in the report). Almost 99 percent of the schools that received Fs had 50 percent or more of their students in poverty.

“We continue to be concerned that schools with the highest percent of poverty are also likely to receive grades D or F, even if their students are making healthy gains each year,” Atkinson said.

She said that the state will take a closer look at those schools receiving an F to see if district assistance can help them improve.

“We have a very positive track record in helping schools to improve,” she said. 

However, Race to the Top funds were a financial boon to the turnaround efforts at DPI, and they are ending, leaving the state with a hole in funding for school and district transformation.

Atkinson said her turnaround staff is about half of what it was under Race to the Top, but added that they’ve learned a lot. She said that after analyzing the data, they may end up working with the most challenging schools, rather than all that received an F. 

Atkinson also noted that addressing summer learning loss and getting pre-k education to more students are essential steps to turning around low student achievement.

Of the schools for which poverty percentages are available — 2,441 —  1,541 of them have 50 percent or more of their students in poverty in North Carolina. Only 900 have less than 50 percent. 

A total of 2,446 schools received school performance grades out of 2,586 public schools statewide, according to the DPI press release. 

“The 140 schools not included in the report may not have any tested grades or may have a transient or very small student population,” the release stated.

For all of the reports associated with the grades, go here.

Reported along with the grades was the news that for the 10th year in a row, North Carolina graduation rates are at their highest level. The percentage is now up to 85.4.

“This is news we’re celebrating both for our state’s economy and productivity, and also for these students and families,” Atkinson said.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest said, “We want to have the highest standards in the world right here in North Carolina.”

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.