North Raleigh News

Wake County school leaders say state grades reveal little

Wake County school leaders are urging families not to put too much stock in Thursday’s first-time release of the state’s performance grades for public schools.

The letter grades, ranging from A through F, are required under a new law that backers say will make it easier for parents to judge schools.

Ahead of the release, Wake released individual reports on every school in the system with details about school performance, teacher characteristics, school climate and school leadership.

Superintendent Jim Merrill said during his State of the Schools speech Wednesday that the online reports show how student achievement is increasing with more students graduating and doing well in college and life. He said the reports provide far more logical, credible and meaningful data than the single letter grade every public school received Thursday.

“Do we really think our parents are unable to process more information about their children?” Merrill said during his speech at the North Raleigh Hilton. “We don’t believe that, which is why we’re releasing progress reports on our schools that we feel are logical and transparent but also detailed and credible.”

The letter grades for Wake schools were generally in keeping with the testing data already released by the state. Schools that tend to have high passing rates on standardized tests received better grades than those that do not.

Also, in general, schools with a low percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals earned higher letter grades, whereas schools with a high percentage of students who qualify earned lower letter grades.

Few traditional public schools in Raleigh earned an A, which means they posted a score of at least 85.

The Wake Early College of Health and Science and the Wake NCSU STEM Early College High School both had a score of 89. Leesville Road High School and Sycamore Creek Elementary School both had a score of 85.

In northern Wake, Jones Dairy Elementary also earned an A, with a score of 86.

For this first year, schools are graded on a 15-point scale: 85-100 is an A, 70-84 is a B, 55-69 is a C, 40-54 is a D, and less than 40 is an F. Grades after this year will be calculated on a 10-point scale.

Grades for elementary and middle schools are based largely on standardized test results: 80 percent of the grade reflects tests taken last year; 20 percent is based on a measurement of student growth, or how much students learn year-over-year. High school grades are based on standardized test results, graduation rates, and the percentage of students who pass Math III.

High schools appeared to fare better than elementary schools on the new scale.

In Raleigh, the lowest scores for elementary and middle schools were a 44, or D, for Walnut Creek Elementary and a 47, or D, for Carroll Middle School.

The lowest score for a high school was a 65, or C, at Southeast Raleigh. Every other Raleigh and northern Wake high school earned at least a B.

Grading North Carolina schools has been controversial since Senate leaders proposed it in 2012. Supporters argued performance grades would provide transparency, while critics said they would stigmatize schools with high enrollment of low-income students.

Some discussions have focused on changing the calculation to put less emphasis on test results and greater weight on student growth.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Senate leader on education issues and sponsor of the original bill calling for performance grades, said changes in the next few years are unlikely.

T. Keung Hui and Lynn Bonner contributed to this report.