Eastern Wake News

East Wake school grades released, principals say not the whole story

Following much anticipation, school performance grades have been released statewide, surprising few in Eastern Wake with their results.

Most schools in the eastern part of Wake County and Garner scored C’s and D’s. Many barely hit or failed to achieve the Education Value-Added Assessment System growth status goal. Area exceptions to the C’s and D’s include East Wake Academy, East Wake High School of Health Science and Garner Magnet High School, which both received B’s.

Elementary and middle school grades were scored based 80 percent on tests taken last year and 20 percent on a measurement of student growth – how much students learn over the course of a year. High school grades were calculated using standardized test results, graduation rates, and the percentage of students who pass Math III.

The state used a 15-point scale to assign the letter grades this year, meaning that grades would have been even lower with the 10-point scale the state will use next year.

According to a News & Observer analysis, high-poverty schools were more likely to get D’s or F’s under the new system.

Principals at East Wake High School said they were focusing on individual students and the reports were helping them in that direction.

“It provides us with another data point to continue to determine ... appropriate things for students to be successful,” said East Wake School of Engineering Systems principal Sebastian Shipp. The school received a letter D score and didn’t meet its growth status.

Kristiana Rogers, interim principal for the East Wake School of Health Science, was happy with the results, attributing the success to teachers understanding individual student needs.

East Wake School of Arts, Education and Global Studies principal Mike James said he was also proud of the teachers for helping the school exceed growth, obtaining a C.

Many principals said they had not received much feedback from parents, but were preempting any complaints with communication about what the grades meant.

Wake County Public School Systemreleased school progress reports that detailed test results, teachers’ qualifications and what the teachers feel about their school, among other factors. They also detail the percentage of students at grade level and the academic growth of students during the course of the year.

Many school leaders say that’s a more accurate assessment of each school.

Concerns with the model

School board vice chair Tom Benton, who represents District 1 on the Wake school board, seemed to confirm the sentiments of his district and has spoken multiple times about the failures of the statewide single letter grade school performance model.

“It’s unfair, inaccurate and misleading,” he said. “It’s an unfair way to make parents think that you can assign one letter grade representing what schools are supposed to do.”

He pointed out that the model of weighing the grade with 80 percent on profieciency and 20 percent for growth defined the grades in a misleading way. If the percentages had been flipped, he said, it would have dramatically changed the results. Principals agreed.

“The single letter grade may even hurt the schools. They are going to waste valuable time talking about grades rather than improvements in the reports. Any parent or community person truly interested in school or schools will understand that the progress reports are the place to look,” Benton said.

In the progress reports, each improvement area is defined more specifically, such as academics, safety and others.

“It’s a point in isolation,” said Garner Magnet High School principal Carter Hillman. The high school received a B, scoring a 71 and exceeding their goals. “Our parents are smart enough to know that there’s more going on in Garner that you can’t see in a single grade.”

He pointed to several different programs at the school and the effort that students are putting into it, including advanced placement classes.

Hillman was not the first to point out that stamping each school with a letter grade was similar to defining a student by a single grade. Students change entering the school and leaving the school, he said. That isn’t considered.

“A low-performing student who makes tremendous growth but isn’t performing where the school wants is compared to a student who is high-performing but who hasn’t grown at all,” he said. He said that even with a B grade, with which he was pleased, the school had plenty of room for imporvement.

Few principals were suprised with their results. The single grade was so simplistic that many school administrators said it wasn’t really helpful. Hillman compared it to labeling a professional baseball team’s skill based on one day of observation.

East Garner Principal Elena Ashburn said she could not speak on the growth performance of her school because she was not principal during the 2013-14 school year. East Garner Middle School received a D, and did not meet growth.

But she emphasized that the school letter grades are not an indication of how well her school is doing.

“(A single letter grade) reduces the complexity of a child, of a school system, of a teacher's work, the whole package. In the four and a half months I've been here, what I know is great, is that we have great people, great teachers and kids and we have a great program,” she said.

Wake County's progress report is much more accurate, she said.

“One grade is not going to capture perceptions. It’s not going to capture how people feel, and perception creates that reality. I’d hate to have that false interpretation,” Hillman said.

Staff writer Jonathan Alexander contributed to this report.