North Carolina’s public schools have a long way to go before they can be considered “exemplary” by any measure of common sense. The governor and state education leaders trumpeted the latest ABC testing results in news conferences August 6, suggesting that, because 65 percent of schools were rated “exemplary” in growth in 1997-98, “public schools are working in North Carolina.”

Unfortunately, this method of calculating school performance misleads the public by shifting attention from true student achievement to a manufactured “feel-good” measure. So, for example, Shamrock Gardens Elementary School in Charlotte miraculously transformed from a “Low-Performing” school last year to an “Exemplary” school this year, even though more than half its students continue to perform below grade level. This is like calling a sports team “exemplary” if it moves from last place to fourth place in its division, even as it continues to lose more games than it wins.

Locke’s Letter Grades

In September, the Locke Foundation will release its own report card on student achievement in North Carolina public schools, using a variety of state and national tests. But using the 1997-98 ABC results, we were able to assign letter grades to each school based on a numerical scale of the percentage of students testing at grade level. The results, summarized on the next page, show that half the public schools deserve “D’s” or “F’s” on their end-of-grade or end-of-course tests. Only 24 schools, or 1 percent, earned “A’s”. This finding — coupled with the fact that only 30 percent of participating N.C. students were proficient in reading and 20 percent proficient in math in the latest national tests — should dissuade anyone from celebrating educational victory.

John Hood, President