Grades aren’t good, but don’t give up yet

Published 4:28 pm Friday, September 27, 2019

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Every September, when students have probably just settled back into the swing of the new school year, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) releases performance grades for public and charter schools across the state. If you’ve read my coverage of this year’s grades already, you know that the grades are never very encouraging.

The most common grade received in our four-county area for the 2018-19 school year was a “D” which is actually down from the year before where they averaged “C” grades. Graduation rates in the Roanoke-Chowan area also were generally lower than the year before, with only a few managing to rise above the state average of 86.5 percent.

Statistically speaking, it all looks pessimistically bad for our local educational systems.

Some, however, argue that the performance grades aren’t the best representation of how well or how poorly the school districts are doing. The grades are based 80 percent on the school’s achievement score, and then 20 percent on students’ academic growth. People who don’t support the NCDPI’s grading method say that basing the grades on tests aren’t going to get accurate results.

Frankly, I agree with that. But I’m not here to argue about the technical details of grading methodology.

What I want to do is try to find some positive solutions here. It’s easy to sneer at the bad grades and dismiss the schools that perform poorly. It’s easy to perpetuate negative perceptions of struggling school districts.

But how does any of that help the students?

It doesn’t.

You can say “it’s not my problem. It’s up to the school district to fix.” But the world around us is interconnected, so if the schools are failing, we are failing too. Imagine how much more successful our students can be if they leave school equipped with the tools they need. Imagine how much our local economy would improve if we had a well-educated workforce, for example. Imagine how many new people would move to the area if the schools had a better reputation.

The school performance grades are usually accompanied by statewide analysis on different data points. In the past, poverty rates were included in this data, but that was absent in this year’s NCDPI release. In the past, it’s been plain to see that schools with high poverty rates among their student population are often the ones with the lowest performance grades. The News & Observer calculated up the data themselves this year and found that the high poverty/low grade correlation hasn’t really changed. One could reasonably assume that students who live in poverty or close to it struggle more in school.

So this goes back to my argument about everything being interconnected. Perhaps if we’d do more to help combat poverty in the region, maybe that would also indirectly help the schools. I’d encourage people to look for more innovative solutions. Because, yes, it is mostly up to the school districts to fix their problems, but that doesn’t mean we can’t offer support as well.

I am well aware that this isn’t an easy problem with easy solutions, and it’s not just going to get better overnight. But we ought to start more conversations about it, think of some tangible ways to make an impact, and support student education wherever possible.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.