Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Grading N.C. schools: A preview

As the state of North Carolina gears up to issue letter grades to schools based on student test scores, the advocacy group CarolinaCAN is rolling out its own version today. The group's report cards label each public school  (including charters)  and school district on an A-F scale,  based on 2012 performance on state exams.

As I told Executive Director Julie Kowal after previewing the report,  people are going to love this or hate it.  It's hard not to have a visceral reaction to seeing big red Fs  (for neighborhood schools serving the most impoverished areas and charters serving at-risk students, on my spot check)  and big green As  (often for low-poverty suburban schools and selective magnets).

Spoiler alert:  Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools rated Cs and Ds as a district,  while its individual schools rate among the best and the worst.  Ditto for charters in this area.

CarolinaCAN is an offshoot of the Connecticut-based 50CAN, created to promote choice,  accountability and flexibility.  Kowal said the N.C. grades promote transparency while giving parents access to important data in an easy-to-grasp format.  "We designed these for the general public in North Carolina,"  she said, acknowledging that the grades and the data points don't give the full picture of school quality,  let alone a district's performance.

She said the grades highlight overall performance,  achievement gaps and performance of low-income,  African American and Hispanic students,  who tend to lag behind peers.  There are Top 10 lists recognizing schools with the biggest gains and the best performance in those groups.  Morehead STEM Academy, Piedmont Middle and Irwin Academic Center,  CMS magnets with admission requirements, and Sugar Creek Charter,  a Charlotte school serving a high-poverty population,  stand out on those lists.

Time for all the caution flags.  First,  the numbers are stale.  It wasn't a typo to say the grades are based on 2012 exams.  The 2013 results that would give us a snapshot of the most recent school year won't be released until November,  as state officials figure out how to deal with new exams.  The state's school report cards,  which give a more comprehensive set of school data,  won't be updated until January.  For consistency,  CarolinaCAN used 2012 graduation rates,  though you can get 2013 rates online.

Second, the grades and lists don't just compare apples and oranges,  they pretty much throw in the whole produce section.  There are neighborhood schools,  magnets,  charters and alternative schools;  rural districts, urban districts and everything in between.  Schools that serve the most disadvantaged kids are graded on the same curve as those where most kids have college-educated parents who send them in prepared and motivated to learn.

Third,  the report cards are a work in progress.  When I first looked at the lists last week I was befuddled.  CMS' Metro School,  which serves severely disabled students ages 3-23, was listed as one of the best elementary schools based on performance gains.  There were numerous errors linked to the school closings and other changes CMS made in 2011-12.  Kowal rechecked after I raised those questions and found ways to fix most of the problems.  She's asking anyone who uses the ratings to email her (julie.kowal@carolinacan.orgwith questions and issues.

To trot out one of my favorite sayings,  crunching school data doesn't provide answers, but it helps you ask better questions.  One of the biggest questions may be:  Can the state create a grading system that benefits students, educators, voters and taxpayers?


Wiley Coyote said...

If the data posted is supposed to represent 2013, then the data is incorrect. At least when you look at the CarolinaCan website.

West Charlotte shows a 56.1% graduation rate, yet the NCDI shows the miraculous 71.1% number for 2012/2013.

The data shows West Charlotte at 99% minority and there were no Whites in the graduation cohorts due to too small of a sample size, yet West Charlotte gets a B- for Achievement Gap "closure"; I guess that's what it means.

So the Achievement Gap is comparing approximately 1,425 Black students to about 20 Whites to get a B-?

This grading scheme will mean absolutely nothing.

Anonymous said...

Demoralizing to the thousands of beat-down, over-worked, unappreciated teachers who give of themselves daily. Foolishness from politicians who are clueless. I wonder than any teachers are left in the classrooms with the shenanigans thrown at them now! Why are parents ( voters) standing for this insanity?

Anonymous said...

It's what one would expect from an agenda driven advocacy group with a twenty something in charge. No different than Heath, Michelle Rhee, Bill Anderson, Ted Cruz or Wiley. They all should be on the education version of "Chopped" for cooking the numbers.

Anonymous said...

Some parents aren't standing for the shenanigans, we left the CMS system 2 years ago for private. Couldn't be happier, my kids are thriving.

Anonymous said...

What does it mean to be at the "top of the class" when your class mostly includes the middle of the pack?

How about a comparison to schools and school systems across the world.

We aren't even in the top 20 last time I checked.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:48.

I know a family who left the US for Singapore who are saying the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Who cares what this NEW GROUP says? They have ZERO experience in educational matters. Tell me what is the number of years just one of them has spent in a class room teaching? This is also a beat down of numbers and with neighborhood schools it matters not if you live in a poorly graded school.

Wiley Coyote said...


So my posting questions about numbers I had nothing to do with is cooking the numbers? LOL....

My "agenda" is exposing hypocrisy and fraud within the public education system.

Based on your comments, you wish to keep everyone in the dark and continue the agenda of failure that has been the public education system for decades.

bobcat99 said...

After a decade of NCLB, the public (rightly) is becoming increasingly skeptical about how meaningful this kind of "grade" system is. Teachers who work in the toughest districts will be told they are failing the children. I honestly wonder why anyone would go into teaching these days when you are battered from every side.

Anonymous said...

The idea of grading schools is a waste of time; all one has to do is look the school's zip code and/or poverty level. Since it was developed by politicians for privatization purposes, the grading process has become fraudulent. Tony Bennett was ousted in Florida when it was discovered he fixed a grade for a donor's charter school in Indiana.

Anonymous said...

Unless one assumes that there is a direct correlation between poverty and ability to learn, and I don't, one must acknowledge that culture is the root of the "achievement gap." Why this country does not set about finding an answer to that issue through scientific means, I.e., hypotheses and proofs of concepts, I cannot understand. Maybe we don't really want to change the culture! Maybe we just prefer throwing money at the problem for myriad reasons.

Anonymous said...

The link between poverty and student achievement has been well-documented beginning with The Coleman Report in 1966. Since poverty is synonymous with certain minority groups, people are quick to assume culture is the reason for poor academic performance.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps culture is part of the reason for the poverty.

Wiley Coyote said...

Since no school district in the United States has a clue as to exactly who is in poverty (or 180% thereof), any data is useless.

Pamela Grundy said...

Sent this afternoon:

Dear Ms. Kowal,

I write to invite you to come to Charlotte and explain in person to parents and teachers from Shamrock Gardens Elementary why our school merits a big, fat orange-red D- on your online report card.

We feel quite strongly that if you are going to saddle us with this so-called "grade" we deserve a face-to-face explanation of why you chose to evaluate us the way you did and what value you think will come out of this process.

I will be happy to host the gathering at my house in Charlotte at your convenience. Please let me know when you will be able to come.


Pamela Grundy, past president
Shamrock Gardens P.T.A.

Anonymous said...

PAMELA, Do you actually think this Ms. Kowal knows or cares anything about SHamrock Gardens? My guess is she does not know how to drive to the school. I would hate to own property near by a school that got that type of rating as values will plummet further. All , because of a baseless state based grading system with 0 merrit. Keith W. Hurley

Pamela Grundy said...


I agree with you that this kind of grading system has no merit. People (including many of our current state legislators) feel able to do this kind of thing because they are thoroughly insulated from the consequences. But I think it's worth asking them to take a closer look, and also to take some personal responsibility for their actions.

Ann, the answer to your question is a big, fat fire-engine red NO.

Anonymous said...

10 years of punishing schools and bashing teachers starting with NCLB. And look how far we've come...

Enough, already.


Anonymous said...

Of course Ms. Kowal will not visit SGES. She, as well as those who support her organization, have never set foot in an urban classroom. It's ironic how she wants to promote transparency within our public schools yet fails to disclose those who support her organization. She's just another educrat who "insulates" herself from non-school factors that affect student achievement.

Wiley Coyote said...

The letter grades are from the Feds, right?

So maybe taking it up with Arne Duncan might be in order.

Anonymous said...

Why NOT assume that culture is at least a huge part of the problem?

We are fools to think otherwise.

After all, it's pretty obvious which cultures are more successful than others throughout the world.

And, oddly, those SAME cultures don't do as well in the US just as they don't do well everywhere else in the world.

Those from "successful" cultures do well in the US, while those from less "successful" cultures do worse.

Poor kids in both Korea and Poland do well in school.

So the "poverty=low achievement" equation isn't true throughout the world.

Pamela Grundy said...

The A-F letter grades aren't from the feds. That's an corporate reform/ALEC idea. Arne Duncan is the source of a lot of problems in education, but this doesn't happen to be one of them.

Anonymous said...

These people are Gates, Walton funded. Got to the 50Can website and they list them. They are all about dismantling public education! I say BS on their methodology!

Anonymous said...

Abandon GovCo schools. Our school has a teacher/student ratio of 1:1.

Anonymous said...

Read Diane Ravitch's book Reign of Error to understand who is destroying public education in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting when those Morehead STEM numbers come out. I am sure that it does not include the FACT that MOST of the sudents are children of CMS Administrators, teachers, counselors and other CMS Staff. So it is the "teaching" or is it the HOME environment/support that is responsible for the "results"? Can't make chicken salad out of chicken CaCa... But it is first prize at the county fair when you use the best white meat from the hen. (NO the white meat is not a racist reference just the more expensive/richest meat on the bone). IF only the other schools had college educated, and "involve"/responsible parenting......I have a dream.

Anonymous said...

To Anon abive: This is my 8th year as a teacher at Morehead and for you to imply that we have some kind of privilege is an insult. We work hard, we have quality, hard working leaders. "Most" of our kids are not brought to us with a silver spoon. Give some credit to the teachers who walk in that building every day and work hard.

Anonymous said...

to 8:22 Above. No doubt that the teachers at Morehead STEM work hard. Now compare your effort and energy levels to those of us who have students that come from backgrounds without the emotional support/stability, financial support/stability from which your students hale. We all work hard but our SCORES are lower. Wanna switch? When it comes to "Pay for performance" I am just pointing out that certain schools have "The edge". THAT being said, I LOVE the challenge of "turning kids on to learning" when they come in with vacant glances and no hope that they might "be something" beyond the sins of their parents. I just know that these GRADING systems do not reflect the effort of ALL teachers WAS MY POINT!!

For what it is worth said...

I think it is pretty interesting when I see which schools tout their "closing the achievement gap" and they have less than a football team of white students. I do have to ask the question, have you dragged those white kids down or simply ignored your obligation to get the best out of every student. We are not created equal it is as simple as that.

Up to a few years ago until I stopped being as active in CMS schools as I was, I'd put most any teacher in any school against a liked credentialed teacher in any other school. The Dr. Gorman came in after being bushwhacked by the race profiteers and the downtown better than others corporate officers who wanted their egos stroked on the church steps every Sunday morning for how noble they were to help the "poor".

But as 3:03 and 3:52 point out, what is the cause and what is the effect. As 5:15 points out, maybe poor students (like on other countries) can be educated and eventually take more jobs from our children while the US children of poverty have that culture that affects them. And we will not address that "culture" because the mass media gives the camera to the race profiteers. And those that decide not to take on that fight, just leave.

So step back and see if this makes any sense. The US people living in poverty obviously have no financial acuity. So the government "gives" them money and expects them to improve their lot in life. A long shot at best! Maybe you can catch 2% to 3%. Obviously you can identify those pretty quickly.

So what we fail to do for our children's sakes is to understand the marginal gain of marginal expenditures particularly in public education.

Here is a simple example. Let's suppose at school A, you are spending $6k per student for a score of 900 points. Let's say you spend an additional $100 per child and gain 10 points. Then you spend another $100 and get 6 points. You have certainly entered the point of diminishing returns. Now take school B. You spend $4k per student and you get 1200 points. The next year you spend another $100 and you get 50 points. And in year 2, you spend another $200 and you get 75 points. Where should you be putting additional resources for the good of the community?

I'm sorry this is above the heads of you "enlightened people". But this is why public education has become government education and has fallen out of favor with the "educated" class. And this started many, many years ago.

For what it is worth said...

error in previous post...

School B example..

And in year 2, you spend another $100 and you get 75 points. Where should you be putting additional resources for the good of the community.

Shamash said...

For what it is worth 10:40pm...

I think what you're saying makes some sense.

It's basically putting your money where you get more bang for the buck (all that talk about marginal this and that will confuse some folks, though).

And we all probably know by now the damage the PC police and even a few "philanthropists" have done to our society by their posturing on the church and courthouse doorsteps.

It's funny to me how we see this so clearly in athletics but not academics.

It's just that more people can relate to sports than academics and can clearly see the performance differences.

We don't throw as much money at the fat kid trying to walk that extra lap as we do at the varsity football team for obvious reasons.

Even though the fat kid would probably benefit MORE from a better physical fitness program than most football players.

But when it comes to academics we seem to take the opposite approach.

If you're "fit" then you're fine, so don't need any extra help, funding, or incentive to perform at an even higher level.

If you're "unfit" then you get all sorts of specialized help and equipment thrown your way.

Even if you repeatedly show little to no interest in getting "fit".

In public education, though, the real question of marginal benefit is which benefits society more.

Is it slightly better workers for McDonalds and Walmart or a better prepared scientists, engineers, and doctors.

And for some reason, we seem to be focused on the bottom of that skill set.

And I don't see that as making for a better future when considering our global competition.

(Even for those working at McDonalds and Walmart or those just trying to stay out of prison. or who are similarly "at-risk")

Shamash said...

Oh, and I almost forgot about the neglected middle.

That is one area where a lot of countries are more successful than we are.

There is nothing wrong with a good vocational track for skilled workers somewhere between the "Walmart/McDonalds/Prisoner" and "Doctor/Lawyer/Engineer" crowds.

If you ask most industries, they'll tell you THAT is where we are leaving a lot of money on the table and losing out to foreign competition.

The knowledge set of our skilled workers.

Anonymous said...

@7:39 & 8:34, please make sure that you have ALL the facts before you try to minimize the impact that Morehead STEM has on students. This year alone we have 1,163 student, of which more that 60% come from low income families. We are more than 90% minority and have the same issues as Title I schools: social/emotional, family support, and poverty. I invite you to come to the school and visit so that you can see for yourself where the results come from. The teachers at Morehead work hard to ensure that every child has a personalized plan of action. There is a culture of high expectation, which yields high results. So come pay us a visit, then you can make a comment about WHO goes to Morehead.

For what it is worth said...

Yes the middle is ignored in CMS and basically in most US government education programs. Our state government leaders keep hearing from industries that they can not get machinists, tool and dye makers, etc. for ramping up their manufacturing here.