NEWS RELEASES 2016-17 :: SEPTEMBER 1, 2016


North Carolina students continue to make gains on most measures of student learning, according to school accountability data released today to the State Board of Education, with more than 75 percent of public schools overall earning grades of C or better in the third year of the state’s A-F grading system.

Nearly a third (32.7 percent) of the state’s 2,459 traditional public and charter schools with grades for the year achieved As and Bs – including the A+NG designation for schools that earn an A and do not have significant achievement and/or graduation gaps – up from the 29.4 percent that did so in 2013-14, the first year that schools were assigned letter grades. The proportion of schools receiving Ds and Fs fell last year to less than a quarter (23.2 percent) of all schools – a decline of nearly 20 percent among schools with the lowest grades over the last three years, from 707 to 571.

The state’s four-year high school cohort graduation rate, which factors into the letter grades for high schools, continued its upward trend for the class of 2016, reaching a new high 85.9 percent. On state exams, the percentage of students proficient in math and science improved across all grades in elementary, middle and high school; reading and high school English performance was more mixed.

In grades 3-8, student grade-level proficiency or above in reading edged up to 56.9 percent from 56.3 percent in 2014-15 and in math, the overall proficiency rate increased to 54.7 percent from 52.2 percent. Grade-level proficiency in science, tested in fifth and eighth grades and in high school biology, reached 71.6 percent in fifth grade, 73.9 percent in eighth grade and 55.5 percent in high school biology. Grade-level proficiency is set at level 3 on the state’s achievement levels, with scores at levels 4 and 5 showing performance that is on track to be college and career ready by high school graduation.

State Superintendent June Atkinson said she was encouraged by the latest data, which she called good evidence that students and schools are making steady progress toward meeting the more demanding standards the state set four years ago with the adoption of its READY accountability system.

"Many schools face significant challenges in terms of critical resources and student needs, but these results show that hard-working educators are making a difference and that students are making gains in their learning,” Atkinson said. “School grades are moving in the right direction, but they continue to underscore the academic challenges faced by many students from disadvantaged families, starting with pre-school. We know schools are helping students make progress, but many schools have large numbers of students who are starting from behind."

School grades, required by state law, continue to correlate closely with the poverty levels of schools. Among all schools last year that received a D or F, 93 percent had enrollments with at least 50 percent of students from low-income families. Conversely, among schools that received at least a B, 75.7 percent had enrollments with less than 50 percent of students from low-income families.

The school grades are based primarily on overall proficiency rates on the state’s standardized end-of-grade tests, and to a lesser extent, the growth students make during the year, irrespective of performance level. Eighty percent of the grade is for the percentage of tests earning a score considered grade-level proficient; 20 percent is for growth, measured by a statistical model that compares each student’s predicted test score, based on past performance, against his or her actual result.

In terms of growth achieved by schools this past year, 27.5 percent exceeded expected growth, virtually unchanged from 2014-15; 46.1 percent of schools met their expected performance, up from 44.7 percent in the previous year; and 26.4 percent fell short of their expected result, down from 27.7 percent the year before. The percentages of schools falling into the three growth categories have remained fairly constant since 2012-13, with slight annual fluctuations up and down.

Comparing traditional public schools to charter schools, 32.2 percent of traditional public schools earned a grade of at least B, while 40 percent of charters made similar grades. At the other end of the scale, 22.9 percent of traditional schools received a D or F; 27.7 percent of charters received one of those grades.

Elementary and middle schools’ performance grades are based only on test scores in reading and math (grades 3-8) and in science (grades 5 and 8). High school grades are based on results from end-of-course exams in English II and Math I in addition to Biology and include other performance indicators as well. The other indicators are the percentage of 11th graders meeting the UNC System’s minimum admission requirement of a composite score of 17 on the ACT college readiness exam, the cohort graduation rate, the percentage of students taking and passing Math III and the percentage of graduates who are Career and Technical Education concentrators who earn a Silver Certificate or higher on the ACT WorkKeys assessment. Growth is included for all grades unless it hurts the grade overall.

Bill Cobey, chairman of the State Board of Education, said that the latest accountability results reflect a clear focus on a set of goals aimed at ensuring students finish high school well prepared.

“North Carolinians should feel confident that their public schools continue to improve and rise to the higher expectations for college and career readiness that the board set beginning with the 2012-13 school year,” Cobey said.

In particular, he pointed to overall proficiency rates on end-of-grade and end-of-course exams, which exceeded the board’s goals for the 2105-16 school year. On another key board goal, the number of schools identified as low performing declined, from 581 in 2014-15 to 489 in 2015-16. The state designates schools as low performing when they receive a D or F and don’t exceed expected growth on state exams. The percentage of schools designated low performing in 2015-16 declined to 20 percent from 24.6 percent the prior year. The board set a target of 23.6 percent of schools being designated low performing last year – a 1 percentage point decrease.

Of the state’s 2,601 public schools and public charter schools, 2,459 received School Performance Grades for the 2015-16 year. The 142 schools not included in the report may not have any tested grades or may have a transient or very small student population. Typically these schools are K-2 schools, special education schools, alternative schools and hospital schools. Following is the overall distribution of the grades for both public school and public charter schools.

A+NG NA NA 69 2.8% 84 3.4%
A 132 5.4% 89 3.6% 86 3.5%
B 582 24.0% 584 23.9% 634 25.8%
C 1,003 41.4% 1,022 41.8% 1,084 44.1%
D 561 23.1% 536 21.9% 469 19.1%
F 146 6.0% 146 6.0% 102 4.1%
Total 2,424   2,446   2,459  

Due to rounding, the percentage of schools may not total 100 percent.

School grades are based on a 15-point scale.

Low-performing schools are identified annually as those that receive a School Performance Grade of D or F and do not exceed growth.  Low performing districts, a new designation set by legislation beginning in 2015, are districts where the majority of schools received a school-performance grade and have been identified as low-performing.  NCDPI will continue to serve and support low-performing districts and schools with district- and school-transformation resources, identifying places where it may provide direct service to support improvement. The department has 20 years of experience in successfully working with low-performing schools to build leadership and teaching capacity for improvement.

Although this is the third year of School Performance Grades, North Carolina has had school-based accountability since 1996. The end-of-grade tests have been given to elementary and middle school students since 1993. These scores reflect the fourth year of the READY accountability model with its strong focus on career and college readiness and high standards.

2015-16 School Performance Grade, School Performance Score and Growth Status by District/School

About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 160 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.

For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.