More charter schools in Wake County earned top marks from the state this year than their counterparts in the traditional public schools.
All North Carolina public schools receive a school performance grade of A-F based largely on passing rates on standardized tests. Out of 18 Wake charter schools, 14 got an A-plus, A or B grade Thursday.
Only half of the Wake County school system’s 167 schools received a B grade or higher for their performance during the 2015-16 school year.
Wake school board Chairman Tom Benton said the disparity is a reflection of how many charter schools in Wake have few low-income students. Charter schools are taxpayer-funded public schools that are exempt from some of the rules that traditional public schools must follow.
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“All the letter grades do is correlate and confirm that schools with low numbers of high-poverty families tend to do well,” Benton said Friday. “And schools with high numbers of high-poverty families don’t do as well.”
None of the seven Wake charter schools that got an A or A-plus have more than 9 percent of students who are economically disadvantaged, according to the state. Of the seven charter schools that got a B, none had an enrollment that was higher than 24 percent low-income.
Two Wake charter schools got a C. The two charters that got a D or F both had more than 75 percent of their enrollment classified as economically disadvantaged.
Lee Teague, executive director of the N.C. Charter Schools Association, said charter schools have more low-income families than reported by the state. He said the state’s data are incomplete because charter schools aren’t required to participate in the National School Lunch Program, which provides subsidized meals for low-income students.
“All the charters in this county work very hard to appeal to a broad spectrum of students and there are several schools that try to target economically disadvantaged students,” Teague said.
Statewide, most of the schools that received F’s were high-poverty schools where 80 percent or more of the students were economically disadvantaged, according to a News & Observer analysis. No school where fewer than 40 percent of the students were economically disadvantaged received an F.
The pattern was similar in the Wake school system.
Of the 18 traditional Wake schools with an A-plus or A grade, 15 had populations where less than 20 percent of students were economically disadvantaged. Yates Mill Elementary near Raleigh was the only one of the 66 schools with a B grade where a majority of the students are economically disadvantaged.
All 15 Wake schools with D or F grades had a majority of their enrollment coming from economically disadvantaged student populations.
Test scores make up 80 percent of grades for elementary and middle schools, while student growth makes up 20 percent of their grades. High schools use standardized test scores, the percentage of students who pass Math III and other factors to determine performance grades.
The state began issuing letter grades in 2014 at the direction of the state legislature. Many public school leaders across the state have pushed for either the elimination of the grades or for the formula to be revised to give more weight to growth rates on tests.
“The A-F grading system is a gross oversimplification of trying to assign a single letter grade to schools, and that grade could be significantly different if weighted differently,” Benton said.
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Go to http://bit.ly/2ccYt5w to view The News & Observer’s database for school-by-school results for all of North Carolina’s public schools.