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Education
An in-depth look at our region's emerging economic, social, political and cultural identity.

Nearly One-Third Of CMS And NC Schools Get Ds And Fs

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Two-thirds of schools in North Carolina received Bs and Cs on new state report cards that include letter grades for the first time.

WFAE’s Lisa Worf joins All Things Considered host Mark Rumsey in the studio:

MR: What exactly is the breakdown in grades?

LW: As you said, there were a lot of Bs and Cs.  Nearly a quarter of North Carolina schools received a D. And then 5 percent of schools got As and 6 percent got Fs. That was pretty close to the breakdown in CMS, too. A higher percentage of CMS schools got As, about 11 percent. But just like the state, nearly a third got Ds and Fs.  

MR: And what about some other school districts in the area?

LW: In Cabarrus County, nearly three-quarters of schools received Bs and Cs.  In Union County two-thirds received As and Bs and neither county had any failing schools. 

MR: Any surprises about which schools got high marks and which ones failed?

LW: There was a concern the grades would break down along income lines. And they did. Nearly all schools receiving Ds and Fs were high-poverty schools. Now, a few high-poverty schools did get As.  But As and Bs, by far went to schools with fewer low-income students. 

MR: I would take it that concern goes back to how these grades are calculated.

LW: It does. I’ve heard many worries that an F at a school doesn’t accurately reflect the learning at that school, especially at high-poverty schools where many students enter behind. The letter grades are based mostly on how well students perform on standardized tests. Twenty percent of the grade is based on how much student’s scores improve from year-to-year. 

MR: So the worry is that kids may score low on the tests, but still be making big gains, and that’s not reflected in a school’s grade. 

LW: Exactly. And superintendent and principals were quick to point that out today. Take Westerly Hills Academy in west Charlotte. The school was one of 36 CMS schools to receive a D. But its students made big gains on tests. The school’s principal Gwen Shannon doesn’t want parents, students and teachers to be discouraged by the low grade. Here she is:

SHANNON: I need for them to know and understand how proud I am of them in that work. And to understand this is one data point along a journey of success that we’ve had. 

LW: I heard phrases like “one data point” or “take this in context” a lot today. 

MR: What other things should parents look at when they're  judging schools?

LW: CMS Superintendent Ann Clark stressed today look at the quality of the principal, the caliber of the teachers, what the school climate is like, the engagement of the community. You can find some of those measures on the report cards. 

MR: Why did state lawmakers decide to require these grades?

LW: They say it will increase transparency and encourage parents and districts to support and reform struggling schools.  Before phrases like “school of distinction” or “priority school” were assigned to schools.  And lawmakers said that was just too hard for parents to understand. 

MR: Now that this first batch of letter grades is out any reaction from state lawmakers?

LW: Senate President Pro-Tem Phil Berger released a statement today saying the state needs to give these grades a chance to work. Now, there has been discussion of weighting growth in test scores more heavily.  And that will likely come up in the state legislature this session.

For more and a list of all school's grades click here