North Carolina students show modest gains on the latest round of state tests

North Carolina schools posted modest gains on state tests. More schools met or exceeded growth targets and more schools earned A and B performance grades, according to the state’s annual accountability report released Wednesday by the State Board of Education.

The state’s graduation rate was 86.5 percent, which is a slight improvement over last year’s 86.3 percent rate.

“We are making changes in Raleigh to help our students and teachers – with less time spent on testing and more time for instruction, getting money out of Raleigh and into classrooms where it belongs, and a regional support system better tailored to support schools,” State Superintendent Mark Johnson said.

The percentage of third-graders reading at or above grade level was 56.8 percent for the 2018-19 school year compared to 56.3 percent the previous year.

Meanwhile, 57.2 percent of students in grades 3-8 were proficient in reading. That’s virtually unchanged from the previous year when 57.3 percent of students in grades 3-8 were deemed proficient.

To see school level data, click on these links:

Third grade is a pivotal year for reading because research shows that students who are successful are most likely to graduate from high school.

The number of third-graders proficient in reading is also worth noting because of the large amount of money – more than $150 million — North Carolina has spent on Read to Achieve, the state’s signature education reform initiative created to ensure students demonstrate reading proficiency by third grade.

Critics say the initiative has been a failure.

“Teaching children to read well is a critical goal for their future success, but recent evaluations show that Read to Achieve is ineffective and costly,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a recent statement explaining his decision to veto the legislation aimed at improving Read To Achieve.

Poor reading scores is one reason Johnson has given for his controversial decision to replace Amplify’s mClass reading assessment tool with Istation.

Education leaders welcomed the modest progress. But State School Board member J.B. Buxton noted this year’s accountability data look a lot like the data from the past two years.

“Understanding that every school and every district has its own individual story with this year’s results, given the three-year look that you’re providing, it kind of looks like the state’s story is we’re stuck in neutral,” Buxton said.

Fifth-and eighth-grade science scores were areas of laudable improvement. Nearly 73 percent of fifth-graders passed the state’s science test, an increase over the 69.9 percent the previous year. And 78.6 percent of eighth-graders passed the science test, which is three percentage points better than the 75.6 percent who passed it the previous school year.

Results on the new math tests showed that 58.6 percent of students in grades 3-8 proficient.

Among high school students, performance improved on the end-of-course exam in biology.

Roughly 75 percent of the state’s 2,523 public schools met or exceeded their expectations for student progress, based on the results of end-of-grade and end-of-course tests in reading and math in elementary schools and English and math in high schools.

The percentage of schools earning As and Bs increased to 37.3 percent from 35.6 percent during the 2017-18 school year.

Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, cautioned against putting too much emphasis on school letter grades.

“Reducing the entire educational experience to a single letter grade has always been a futile endeavor,” Jewell said. “The school letter grades released today fail to account for the many factors that contribute to, and greatly inhibit overall student success.”

Jewell said the state’s teachers deserve better support.

“Instead of going through this A-F labeling exercise year after year, we should be giving our educators and students the resources they need to be successful, rather than wasting precious time and money on a punitive grading system that relies on high-stakes testing,” Jewell said.

Southside-Ashpole Elementary School, the one and only school in the state’s Innovative School District (ISD) received a “F” letter grade and did not meet growth expectation.

The ISD was created in 2016 as a strategy for improving academic achievement in the state’s lowest performing schools.

The state’s two virtual charter schools – N.C. Cyber Academy and the N.C. Virtual Academy – both received “D” performance grades and failed to meet academic growth.

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