When North Carolina released its school letter grades Wednesday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools got 19 A’s — a higher percentage than the state average.
However, the district also has 39 low-performing schools and 10 that got the state’s lowest grade, an F.
For the past five years North Carolina has graded public schools on an A-F scale, based mostly on students’ performance on state exams. The letter grades don’t account for the challenges or advantages the students arrive with, and they don’t directly gauge the quality of teachers, principals or volunteers.
But the grades can shape community pride, property values and education reform efforts.
This year the state tweaked the way it grades schools. For instance, the General Assembly abolished the A+ rating. Now the top grade is A, a rating that went mostly to low-poverty suburban schools, selective magnets and high schools on college campuses.
The state uses test scores — and, for high schools, graduation rates — to score each school on a 100-point scale, with 85 or higher earning an A. Schools that got F’s had scores below 40.
Most of the school’s grade is based on proficiency, which gives a strong edge to schools where students have a lot of home support.
The state’s poorest schools — schools where at least 75 percent of students come from low-income families — had an average final score of 52, a D rating. Within CMS, low-income schools averaged a final score of 42. In Wake County, they averaged 51.
But 20 percent of each school’s grade is based on how much growth students showed over the course of the year, something that can help balance the scales for high-poverty schools.
The letter grades provide a snapshot of what many observers already know: Mecklenburg is a county of extremes.
▪ The best schools can compete with any around North Carolina. More than 2,500 charter and district schools across the state were graded, and just over 7 percent got A’s. CMS had 19 A schools out of 172, for an 11 percent rate.
Last year CMS had 25 A or A+ schools. It’s unclear how much of the decrease came from actual performance changes and how much came from tweaks to the system. For instance, this year there’s a new measure of how much progress immigrant students learning English have made, which counts toward grades for schools with at least 30 students classified as English learners.
The state has also changed the way it tallies middle and high school math scores and high school graduation rates.
Wake County Public Schools, the only district larger than CMS, had 13 A’s out of 177 schools, for a rate very similar to the state average.
▪ CMS has also earned a national reputation for its resegregated schools, where virtually all students are poor, black and Hispanic. Those schools often defy repeated attempts to boost performance. CMS had 10 F schools to Wake’s three.
CMS had five F schools in 2017. This year’s larger list included three alternative schools — Turning Point Academy, Metro School and Lincoln Heights Academy — that serve students with disabilities and/or behavior problems and that weren’t graded in 2017, said Chief Equity Officer Frank Barnes.
Schools that rate a D or F are labeled low-performing unless their students exceeded growth targets on the state exams. An Observer tally of state data indicates 39 CMS schools are on the 2018 low-performing list, including several that have been part of such reform efforts as the public-private Project LIFT, the district’s Beacon Initiative and various types of restructuring that will continue this school year. Renaissance West STEAM Academy, a K-8 neighborhood school that opened in 2017 amid high hopes that it would provide the kind of community support to help students of poverty excel, earned an F and landed on the low-performing list as well.
Charter schools, which are public schools run by independent boards, also tended to the extremes. North Carolina had 168 charter schools that earned letter grades for 2018. Fifteen, or almost 9 percent, earned A’s. Eight, or almost 5 percent, earned F’s, compared with about 4 percent statewide.
Changes in North Carolina’s 2018 grades were driven partly by demands of a federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (formerly No Child Left Behind).
CMS A schools: Ardrey Kell High, Bailey Middle, Cato Middle College High, Chantilly Montessori, Community House Middle, Elon Park Elementary, Polo Ridge Elementary, Harper Middle College High, Hawk Ridge Elementary, Hough High, Levine Middle College High, McKee Road Elementary, Park Road Montessori, Piedmont Middle, Providence Spring Elementary, Providence High, Robinson Middle, Selwyn Elementary, South Charlotte Middle.
Charter A schools: Lake Norman, Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy.
CMS F schools: Allenbrook Elementary, Bruns Academy, Cochrane Collegiate Academy, Davis Military/Leadership Academy, Martin Middle, Renaissance West STEAM Academy, Sedgefield Middle, Turning Point Academy, Metro School, Lincoln Heights Academy.
CMS low-performing schools: Allenbrook Elementary, Ashley Park PreK-8, Billingsville Elementary, Briarwood Academy, Bruns Academy, Cochrane Collegiate Academy, Coulwood STEM Academy, David Cox Road Elementary, Davis Military/Leadership Academy, Devonshire Elementary, Druid Hills Academy, Eastway Middle, Harding High, Hornets Nest Elementary, J.M. Alexander Middle, King Middle, Martin Middle, Montclaire Elementary, Nathaniel Alexander Elementary, Newell Elementary, Northeast Middle, Oakdale Elementary, Performance Learning Center, Pinewood Elementary, Reid Park Academy, Renaissance West STEAM Academy, Ridge Road Middle, Rocky River High, Sedgefield Elementary, Sedgefield Middle, Southwest Middle, Starmount Academy, Statesville Road Elementary, Sterling Elementary, Tuckaseegee Elementary, West Mecklenburg High, Whitewater Academy, Winding Springs Elementary, Winterfield Elementary.
Charter F schools: Charlotte Learning Academy, UpRoar Leadership Academy.
Charter low-performing schools: Aristotle Prep, Charlotte Learning Academy, Charlotte Secondary, KIPP Charlotte, United Community School, UpRoar Leadership Academy.
Cabarrus County A schools: Cox Mill High, Cabarrus Early College of Technology, Cabarrus-Kannapolis Early College.
Cabarrus County F schools: None.
Cabarrus County low-performing schools: Concord Middle, Irvin Elementary, Royal Oaks Elementary, Winecoff Elementary.
Charter low-performing schools: ACE Academy.
Gaston County A schools: Gaston Early College High, Highland School of Technology.
Gaston County F schools: Woodhill Elementary.
Gaston County low-performing schools: Beam Elementary, Bessemer City Central Elementary, Bessemer City Middle, Brookside Primary, Sherwood Elementary, Woodhill Elementary.
Iredell-Statesville A schools: Agriculture and Science Early College High, Collaborative College for Technology, Lake Norman High, Mount Mourne School, Northview School, Crossroads Arts Sciences Early College.
Iredell-Statesville F schools: Statesville Middle.
Iredell-Statesville low-performing schools: Cloverleaf Elementary, East Iredell Middle, Mills Elementary, Statesville Middle, Statesville High.
Lincoln County A schools: Rock Springs Elementary.
Lincoln County F schools: None.
Lincoln County low-performing schools: Kiser Intermediate.
Union County A schools: Antioch Elementary, Rea View Elementary, New Town Elementary, Cuthbertson High, Piedmont High, Sandy Ridge Elementary, Central Academy of Technology and Arts, Union County Early College, Weddington Elementary, Weddington Middle, Weddington High, Marvin Ridge Middle, Marvin Ridge High.
Charter A schools: Union Academy.
Union County F schools: None.
Union County low-performing schools: Benton Heights Elementary, East Elementary, East Union Middle, Monroe Middle.