29 Percent Of North Carolina Public Schools Rated 'D' Or 'F'

Feb 5, 2015

Updated 7:31 PM

North Carolina public schools received letter grades for the first time on Thursday, with high-poverty schools receiving more Ds and Fs than those with fewer low-income students.

Under the new A through F grading system, more than two-thirds of schools received Cs, Ds or Fs and only about five percent earned As.

Credit Reema Khrais

The grades are based on two different metrics:

  • 80 percent of the grades are based on how students performed on standardized tests.
  • 20 percent of the grades are tied to how much academic growth students showed while enrolled at the school.

Allen Middle School in Greensboro is one of the schools that ranked near the bottom of the metric. Ninety-three percent of students at the school receive free or reduced price meals. But the school has gone to extraordinary lengths to change in the last couple of years, even rehiring every single position.

School officials at Allen Middle School renovated the hallways after they decided in 2013 to reconstruct its image and rehire every position.
Credit Reema Khrais

Earlier this week, preteens roamed the bright hallways amid inspirational quotes from figures like Henry Ford and Babe Ruth which were plastered all over the walls.

“I’m a motivational coach, that’s what you do when you work in a school,” said Principal Sheila Gorham.

The quote Gorham announced over the speakers on Monday morning was from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“’A man can’t ride your back unless it’s bent,’” Gorham said. “So straighten up, so you don’t have to worry about people fussing, straighten up.

Straightening up. That’s exactly what Allen Middle School has been trying to do. Students here have been performing so poorly that two years ago the district rehired every single position, even down to the custodians.  

“I call it 'refresh': To just, sort of, tap into the potential that this district felt was in this school,” Gorham said.

And they did refresh. Students made more improvement on their tests last year than what the state expected. But even so, the high-poverty school didn’t a get good a grade – their test scores are relatively low.

When asked what grade the school should get, Gorham took into account the school’s poverty, attendance rate, staff, and other factors the state did not consider.

"If it was up to me, I would say a B,” she said.

But the school got a D. About 29 percent of public schools in North Carolina got Ds and Fs.

School Leaders Want More Emphasis On Growth

'When parents and others see their school's letter grade, I hope they will dig deeper, and ask these questions: How is my child doing? Is he or she learning and growing?'

“These grades aren’t as bad as many people thought they would be and they’re not as good as we want them to be,” said State Superintendent June Atkinson.

The grades for middle and elementary schools are calculated by how well students do on end-of-grade tests and, to a lesser degree, how much they improve.  High school grades take into account additional factors like graduation rates and ACT performance.

“When parents and others see their school’s letter grade, I hope they will dig deeper, and ask these questions – how is my child doing? Is he or she learning and growing?” Atkinson said.

Atkinson said the single letter grades minimize how much students have grown, especially low-income kids – more than 75 percent of public schools met or exceeded their growth expectations.

Wealth vs. Poverty

“The only thing these grades tell us is where the poor kids go to school and where the rich go,” said Lynn Shoemaker, a former teacher with the advocacy group Public Schools First NC.

She said the grades don’t reflect student poverty or budget cuts. 

“It doesn’t reflect the fewer classroom teacher assistants or the enormous class size that lack basic resources like textbooks and desks,” Shoemaker said.

But that’s part of the reason why Republican state lawmakers, like Senator Jerry Tillman, said this grading system is so important: to know which schools to help out.

“Everybody understands a simple system of A through F, it’s a good barometer,” he said.

Tillman cosponsored the legislation that created the grading system. It was first championed by Senate leader Phil Berger a few years ago, but the whole idea sprung from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

More than a dozen states have adopted an A through F accountability model, though some of them have deliberated its effectiveness and tweaked the grade calculation formulas. 

Democratic Senator Josh Stein from Wake County filed a bill this week that would have student growth account for 60% of the grade, instead of 20%. Senator Tillman said he's open to tweaking the percentages in the future, if the school grades aren't  improving. 

“I think we ought to give more credit to a system that can grow its students, but it tells a lot, the A through F can tell a parent a lot," Tillman said. 

To parent Natasha Pace at Allen Middle School in Greensboro, it’s discouraging.

“It feels like we took five steps forward to take four steps back, because we felt so good about our growth, she said. “We felt so good that we were doing so much better than before. And then now you tell us what you did was not good enough!”

Every parent at Allen Middle School will get a letter home letting them know how their school did. So will every other parent at schools that earned Ds and Fs. 

Original Post: 

Entire schools are getting report cards demonstrating how they stack up with others. Today, the State Board of Education unveiled A-to-F grades for all state public schools.

The grades are based on two different metrics:

  • 80 percent of the grades are based on how students performed on standardized tests.
  • 20 percent of the grades are tied to how much academic growth students showed while enrolled at the school.

WUNC's Reema Khrais has been looking at the report:

Here's the broad overview:

  • 5.4 percent of NC schools received an A grade
  • 24 percent received a B grade
  • 41.4 percent received a C grade
  • 23.1 percent received a D grade
  • 6 percent% received an F grade

This bar graph illustrates schools with more poverty got worse grades.

Credit Reema Khrais

All schools assigned a "D" or "F" must send a letter to parents informing them.

>>Here is a link to the information, school-by-school.