Just in time for the 2018 school choice season, North Carolina has posted a new batch of school report cards.
And the new format provides the clearest overview of data on academic performance, teacher qualifications and school climate that I’ve seen in 15 years on the beat.
That’s good news for the families of more than 1.5 million students attending district and charter schools across the state, and thousands more who are thinking about where to send younger children as they reach school age. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is currently taking applications for 2018 magnet assignments, and many charter schools are open for applications as well.
The data may also provide insights for advocates and policymakers wrestling with how to best provide equal educational opportunities at all schools.
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The report cards went up Tuesday morning at schoolreportcards.nc.gov. You can search for a specific school or by county, and you can look for district schools, charter schools or both.
At first glance you’ll see the school’s letter grade and either a star, check or blank space, signaling whether that school exceeded, met or failed to meet goals for student progress.
Click on a school and you’ll start to see what’s behind those grades.
For contrast, I started with West Charlotte and Ardrey Kell high schools – a high-poverty urban school that has been the focus of intensive efforts to boost performance and a low-poverty suburban school that generally tops the ratings. West Charlotte got a C, Ardrey Kell an A, with both exceeding growth goals.
One of the first things you’ll see after the grades is data on how prepared the students are when they arrive. That’s a new addition this year, one that helps people understand that letter grades aren’t just about teacher effectiveness.
For instance, at West Charlotte just over 10 percent of entering ninth-graders had proficient scores on state exams. At Ardrey Kell more than 80 percent did.
In other words, students at Ardrey Kell arrive with a huge edge over those at West Charlotte – and the numbers that follow indicate that advantage only grows.
For instance, Ardrey Kell students are more likely to have teachers who are fully licensed, have advanced degrees and/or hold National Board certification.
West Charlotte students, on the other hand, are suspended at a rate 40 times higher than their suburban counterparts.
When 11th graders took ACT college readiness exams last year, more than 85 percent of Ardrey Kell students earned a score that would qualify for admission to the UNC system, while fewer than 20 percent of West Charlotte students did. Ardrey Kell had 10 times as many students earning credentials in career/technical classes, including fields such as science/technology and marketing, that weren’t reported at West Charlotte.
You can see how this data might inform discussions of how to best create opportunities for all students, from those who need extra support at Ardrey Kell to the gifted and college-bound at West Charlotte.
For most families, though it may be more about sizing up schools for 2017-18. In addition to the numbers I’ve mentioned, you can find data on teacher turnover and experience, classroom technology, attendance and, of course, test scores.
For charter schools you can also see charts on per-pupil spending and where the money goes. That’s not available for traditional public schools; the state does that reporting by district, and each charter school is classified as its own school district.
Superintendent Mark Johnson, N.C. Department of Public Instruction staff and SAS, the private contractor handling the data, have all worked toward making this year’s report cards clearer and easier to understand.
Johnson, a former teacher at West Charlotte High, said he considers the readiness ratings for middle and high schools an important addition.
“As a parent, I believe this is the kind of information the public needs about our schools, in an accessible format we can all understand,” he said.
I give them all kudos for that. For several years I’ve been telling people that North Carolina offers a lot of data but they’ll probably struggle to make sense of it.
One thing that hasn’t changed: Even the most detailed and cleanly-charted numbers don’t give a full picture of a school. To know whether a school is right for your child, you need to visit and ask questions.
What the numbers do is help families ask better questions.