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Nearly half of ABSS schools identified as low-performing


An apparent record number of Alamance-Burlington schools – 17, or 49 percent – have been identified the state Department of Public Instruction as “low-performing,” which could subject them to more stringent oversight by education officials.

Low-performing schools are any of those that received a School Performance Grade of D or F, in conjunction with the year-end testing results for the 2022-23 school year that the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) issued earlier this month.

Of those 17 ABSS schools, 15 are recurring low-performing schools, meaning they had been previously identified as “low-performing” for at least two of the past three years, according to DPI.

The Alamance News reported annual School Performance Grades for all 35 ABSS schools in its September 7 edition.

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Also included in DPI’s mammoth data release is a more detailed section on low-performing schools.

[Story continues below charts on low-performing and recurring low-performing schools.]

Statewide, approximately 740 traditional K-12 public schools have been identified as “low-performing,” along with 59 public charter schools, based on their year-end testing results and School Performance Grades for 2022-23.

The A to F School Performance Grades are issued to all traditional K-12 public schools and public charter schools and are largely based on year-end test scores in math, reading, and science.  (School performance grades issued to high schools also reflect several other academic metrics, such as the four-year graduation rate, scores on workplace readiness tests, and English learner progress.)

Eighty percent of each school’s letter grade is based on percentage of students who performed at or above grade level (i.e., “grade-level proficient”) on End-of-Grade (EOG) tests and End-of-Course (EOC) exams. Twenty percent of each school’s A to F grade is based on “growth,” which measures students’ predicted test scores, based on past performance, against actual test scores, according to DPI.

DPI bases its school performance grades on the following 15-point scale:

  • A: 85-100
  • B: 70-84
  • C: 55-69
  • D: 40-54
  • F: 39 and below

None of the county’s four public charter schools – Alamance Community School, Clover Garden School, River Mill Academy, and The Hawbridge School – has been identified as low-performing, according to DPI.

Number of schools identified as low-performing doubled in past five years

State education officials acknowledged earlier this month that the number of low-performing schools across the state had nearly doubled, from 488 in 2018-19, to more than 800 low-performing schools statewide in 2022-23.

However, the number of low-performing ABSS schools has remained relatively static during that period, based on the breakdown released by DPI.

By comparison, 13 ABSS schools had been identified as low-performing and recurring low-performing, based on academic performance results for the 2018-19 school year; many of those schools also made the “low-performing” list for 2022-23, as well, according to DPI.

For 2022-23, the 17 low-performing ABSS schools include: 11 elementary schools; three middle schools; two high schools; and one combined school, the Alamance Virtual School, which had served students in kindergarten through grade 12, until the beginning of the current school year, when kindergarten through third grade were eliminated (see accompanying chart).

Of the 17 schools designated as low-performing, nine received a school performance grade of D; eight received Fs, based on year-end test results that DPI released earlier this month.


Avenues for improvement

A state law passed in 2013 requires public school systems with schools that are identified as low-performing to send out written notices within 30 days, informing parents of the designation, as well as what measures will be taken to improve future academic performance.

The Alamance News was unable to determine whether those notices have been sent to parents at the 17 schools; however, ABSS officials have until around October 6 to do so.

Other provisions within the state’s public education laws provide public school systems outline four other potential models to improve low-performing schools: Turnaround; Transformation; Restart; or Closure.  The “restart” model allows school boards to implement changes, under the same exemptions to statutes and rules afforded to charter schools, in order to improve student achievement.  Those changes can include measures such as extending the school day or school year; and hiring an education management organization to help run an individual school, according to DPI.

ABSS used the “restart” model in hopes of improving academic performance at Haw River Elementary School, starting with the 2016-17 school year, at the recommendation by then-superintendent Dr. Bill Harrison.  Nonetheless, Haw River Elementary School has since resurfaced on the state’s list of low-performing and recurring low-performing schools, according to DPI.

The other “reform” models outlined under state law require stricter measures to be taken.  The transformation model calls for replacing the school principal; use of systematic evaluations for teachers and the principal; comprehensive instructional reform through research-based interventions; and continuous use of student data.

A final approach allows school systems to recommend closure of a particular school, though there is also an option to convert and reopen a school under a charter management organization or education management organization (EMO); and/or close a school entirely and reassign students to “other higher-achieving schools” within the same school system, according to DPI’s analysis of public school reform models that have been incorporated into the state’s public education laws.

Meanwhile, ABSS will be required to develop and incorporate strategies for improving students’ academic performance into school improvement plans (SIPs) for each of the 17 schools that has been identified as low-performing, in keeping with state law.

School improvement plans (SIPs) for all ABSS schools, including the 17 identified as low-performing, were presented to school board members for review at their work session last week; they were listed on the board’s meeting agenda as an “information” item only, requiring neither a vote nor a discussion.  The school improvement plans for all ABSS schools will likely be presented for a vote at an upcoming school board meeting.

The low-performing designation is based on student achievement for two of the last three years.

However, DPI received a waiver from reporting annual School Performance Grades for the 2020-21 school year, due to disruptions in instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic.  Annual year-end tests and the list of low-performing schools were eliminated entirely for the 2019-20 school year due to the pandemic.

DPI subsequently released only minimal data for individual school planning purposes for the 2020-21 school year, the state education department reported at the time.

The 2022-23 school year that ended in June represents the first time that DPI has released all of its annual academic results, including its “low-performing schools list,” since 2018-19.

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