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home : opinion : opinion October 18, 2019

9/7/2019 9:58:00 AM
NC School Report Cards Should Be Taken With A Grain Of Salt
  • REPORTER'S NOTE: My series EDUCATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY is not complete.  I apologize for the delay, but I have been battling a recurring kidney infection--I go to UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill on Tuesday (Sep. 10th) for further tests.  I have done a couple of additional interviews and have at least three more articles in the series yet to be published.  As always, we welcome response to this editorial, to any and all of our articles, and other comments on pertinent subjects of local interest by those who live in our primary coverage area--Lincoln, Gaston, Catawba and Cleveland counties.

Wayne Howard
Staff Writer

"Lies, damned lies, and statistics" ... The phrase was popularized in the United States by Mark Twain (among others), who attributed it to the British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." The phrase is not found in any of Disraeli's works and the earliest known appearances were years after his death. Several other people have been listed as originators of the quote, and it is often erroneously attributed to Twain himself.

So you will pardon me, perhaps, if I tell you that the latest School Report Card from the NC Dept. of Public Instruction is exactly that. Not that it was intentional, and perhaps lies is a bit strong. It's not that there is in the report anything meant to deceive the public; it's more a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees.

The state has come up with a showy online presentation that allows one to see how a certain district or school is doing compared to others. The biggest problem I find with the report is that it's like many high school book reports--showy but not very substantive.

If you look at the chart, you can see that Lincoln County Schools had one school that achieved an A in performance grades, 10 that were rated a B, and 9 that were given a C. Two schools got a D in performance. Right next to that chart is one that shows 7 Lincoln County schools exceeded growth status expectations, 9 met them and 4 did not. Unfortunately (as is often the case throughout this report) no real explanation as the the meaning or significance of those designations is provided.

Right below those two charts on the Lincoln County Schools page of the report is a chart that is called English Learner Progress. It shows a bar graph just under 45% and slightly less than the state figure (adjacent bar on the graph). One reasonably wonders what that means--no explanation is given.

Further down the page another chart (can be changed to a table, which we did) shows that in math performance, Lincoln County students were 16% in level one (best) and 35% in level four (worst). The state figures were 24% in level one and 30% in level four.

The English Language Arts/Reading Performance grade was also not kind to the local district. Lincoln County had only 16% in level one compared to a state average of 22%; 41% in level four, compared to 35% statewide.

Only 9% of Lincoln County students rated level one in science, compared to 15% statewide. Our 42% in level four was similar to the statewide 41%.

In biology, Lincoln County had 16% in level one compared to a statewide 22%; in Math I Lincoln County had 21% in level one, compared with 27% statewide.

Caution: the definitions of those categories are among the things not clearly defined.

Local school districts will (Lincoln & Gaston County Schools already have) put out news releases touting their progress--and truthfully, they've made some; but please, don't put too much stock in those 'report card' grades--they're as much politics today as they were when I was a student over a half century ago.

We'll report the material; it's what we do. We'll also hope that some of our readers will be intelligent enough to look past it.

CLICK HERE to view the NC School Report Cards report from the DPI.

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