Kannapolis graduation rates up; schools score Cs and Ds
By Deirdre Parker Smith
Kannapolis City Schools increased its four-year graduation rate and surpassed the state average in accountability targets met, but the schools still earned grades of C and D for performance.
The State Board of Education approved final test results for the 2014-2015 school year, which showed that Kannapolis City Schools’ four-year graduation rate is 85.3 percent, compared with the state average of 85.4 percent. It is the fifth time in the last seven years that KCS has raised its percentage of graduates.
The five-year graduation rate is 84.2 percent for Kannapolis and 86.2 for the state, which saw the 10th consecutive year of improvement.
“We have worked extremely hard to raise our graduation rate,” said KCS Superintendent Dr. Pam Cain. “Our staff at A.L. Brown High School has done an excellent job of making sure students are successful and are staying on track to graduate. … Everyone in Kannapolis City Schools is focused on motivating students and preparing them for success, and I am very pleased that our efforts are helping more students to graduate on time.” Since 2008, KCS has improved its graduation rate by 23 percent.
The School Performance Grades are required by the legislature and give every school a letter grade from A to F.
Across the state, 72.2 percent of traditional public schools earned grades of C or better and 70.4 percent of public charter schools earned a C or better.
At the high school level, 80 percent of the grade is based on end of course tests plus ACT and WorkKeys (job skills assessment) results, the four-year graduation rate and the percentage of students who complete higher level math.
For kindergarten through eighth grade, 80 percent of the grade is based on end of grade test results. Twenty percent of each school’s grade comes from how much academic growth students achieve.
Across the state, 70 percent of schools received Cs, Ds or Fs.
A.L. Brown High School earned a C, while Kannapolis Middle and Kannapolis Intermediate earned Ds. Among the elementary schools, Forest Park and Shady Brook got a C; Fred L. Wilson, Jackson Park and Woodrow Wilson all got Ds.
For the 2013-2014 school year, A.L. Brown and Forest Park, Fred L. Wilson, Jackson Park and Shady Brook elementary schools each received a C school performance grade.
Kannapolis Intermediate, Kannapolis Middle and Woodrow Wilson Elementary schools each received a D in 2013-2014.
Dr. Kelly Burgess, KCS director of student assessment, said the school performance grades are not a very good measure of how well schools are performing.
“From an educational perspective, student growth is a much better measure of how well a school is doing than standardized test results,” Burgess says. “Research consistently shows that standardized tests say much more about students’ economic background than they do about how much children are learning. In addition, the state recently set new passing scores for end of grade tests. That process automatically lowered test scores and led to many schools in the state getting lower letter grades than they would have in the past.”
The state’s Department of Public Education notes that students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds were most likely to receive D or F school performance grades.
Many of these students begin the school year behind their peers and must show “significant academic growth” in order to score proficient.
The score levels are defined this way: level 1 is limited command of the subject, level 2 is partial command and level three shows sufficient command and indicates the student may get on track for career and college readiness with additional academic support. Students at level 4 have a solid command and level 5 shows superior command. Scoring at level 4 or 5 shows students are considered to be college and career ready.
In all subjects, KCS had 41.2 percent proficiency at levels 3-5, compared to the state average at 56.6 percent. For 2013-2014, KCS was at 44.2 percent, and the state was also 56.6 percent.
It is possible for a student or school to have a strong pattern of academic growth and not reach proficiency, said Ellen Boyd, KCS director of community relations.
KCS had five schools that met or exceeded academic growth targets in 2014-15: Forest Park and Shady Brook Elementary exceeded expectations. Fred L. Wilson, Jackson Park and Woodrow Wilson met goals. Kannapolis Intermediate, Kannapolis Middle and A.L. Brown did not meet expectations.
Cain said KCS is working on improving proficiency levels in the district. “Hundreds of our teachers and leaders spent several weeks this summer in professional development sessions,” Cain said. “They learned how to help students gain a deeper understanding of the curriculum and go beyond just a surface knowledge of subjects. We also are doing a better job of monitoring students’ progress during the school year, and we have formed a math task force to improve math achievement across the district.”
The state also reported whether schools districts met Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs). AMOs are academic performance targets that school districts, states and schools must achieve in order to meet federal testing guidelines. The AMO targets include performance on state standardized tests, the ACT college entrance exam, ACT WorkKeys test, four- and five-year graduation rates, and the percentage of 2015 graduates who passed higher level math courses.
KCS met or exceeded some state AMO targets — end of grade reading for grades 3-8, end of grade math in grades 3-8, reading and math grade 10 and in WorkKeys and math course rigor. The schools significantly missed the target in grade 11 science, with 28.6 percent compared to the state rate of 45.5 percent. KCS was also behind in end of grade science for grades five and eight, at 50 percent of targets met compared to the state rate of 63.6 percent.
The other area where KCS met less than the state percentage was ACT college entrance, with 38.5 percent, compared to 45.5 percent for the state. Kannapolis schools surpassed the state average in WorkKeys. Kannapolis met 80 percent of its target, while the state met 40.9 percent.
Boyd pointed out, “The bar gets raised every year. Students can make a big improvement but not up to the higher standard set.”
“Since 2008, our state has consistently raised its accountability standards for public schools. However, it also has reduced the amount of money it gives to educate each child during that time,” said superintendent Cain. “In addition, legislators are now using taxpayer money to fund private schools that have no accountability for curriculum, academic performance, teacher qualifications, or financial management. I believe it is not fair to our children, parents, educators, or state to keep increasing expectations of public schools while taking away their resources. I hope people will recognize that our educators in Kannapolis City Schools and North Carolina are doing more with less every day and are serving our children and state extremely well.”