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September 12, 2002

Number of High Performing Schools Increases in North Carolina,
ABCs Report Shows

     North Carolina is expecting more of its public schools than ever before, and schools have risen to this challenge. In 2001-02, North Carolina had more high-performing schools than ever before and a dwindling number of low-performing schools. More students are at grade level and achievement gaps are closing.

     More than 43 percent of North Carolina schools are Schools of Excellence or Schools of Distinction, the state’s two highest recognition categories, according to the 2001-02 ABCs accountability results released and approved by the State Board of Education today. This shows that the state’s accountability model, just entering its seventh year, is working as planned and increasing the number of students performing at grade level or better, according to State Superintendent Mike Ward.

     "The goal of the ABCs accountability model is to reward growth in student achievement. In the first year of the ABCs, only 12 schools qualified as Schools of Excellence and only 158 were Schools of Distinction. Today, we have 299 Schools of Excellence and 648 Schools of Distinction. And, we achieved this improvement even after tightening the requirements for Schools of Distinction," said State Board of Education Chairman Phil Kirk.

     The number of Schools of Excellence, the highest performance level recognized, increased to 299 or 13.6 percent of all schools. In 2000-01, 7.9 percent of schools, or 171 schools, were in this category. Schools of Excellence are schools that have met at least expected growth goals for student achievement and where 90 percent or more of their students’ scores are at or above grade level.

     The number of low-performing schools in North Carolina continued to decline in 2001-02 and is down to 18. Low-performing schools are identified when a school does not meet academic growth goals and has less than 50 percent of its students’ scores at or above grade level. In 2000-01, 31 schools were low performing.

     The State Board of Education also approved the assignment of State Assistance Teams today to five of the low-performing schools. All of the schools assigned to assistance teams are high schools. Assistance teams of experienced educators have been assigned to some low-performing schools each year since the ABCs began to help these schools improve academic performance. Voluntary assistance is provided to other low-performing schools. Of the 60 schools served by assistance teams between 1997-98 and 2000-01, only three schools returned to the low-performing list in a subsequent year.

     Of special interest this year is the fact that most of the high-performing schools (Schools of Excellence) met the standard for "High Growth," roughly 10 percent above the standard for Expected Growth. Some educators have voiced concerns that schools with a significant number of students at grade level or better might have more difficulty meeting rigorous growth goals. The numbers and analyses done on the ABCs throughout its history have not supported this idea.

     In addition to the ABCs report, the State Board also received a report showing the preliminary state level data for the testing program which showed a growing percentage of students overall who performed at or above grade level in both reading and mathematics. In 2001-02, 74.7 percent of third through eighth graders were proficient in both basic subjects. This is up from 61.7 percent in 1996-97, the first year of the ABCs.

     This report showed that the achievement gap between White and Black students narrowed slightly. The data show that 56.6 percent of Black students scored at or above grade level in reading and math in 2001-02, up from 52 percent. White students’ performance also improved to 84.4 percent at or above grade level, a 2.4 point gain over 2000-01. The figures for the state’s students overall were 74.7 percent at or above grade level, a 3 point gain from the previous year.

     The data show that 62.1 percent of Hispanic students scored at or above grade level in reading and math, up from 58.7 percent in 2000-01. For American Indian students, 62.7 performed at grade level in 2001-02, up from 60 percent in the previous year.

     State Superintendent Mike Ward said that the ABCs results put North Carolina in a good position to perform well under the requirements of No Child Left Behind, the sweeping federal education legislation signed into law in January. "No Child Left Behind sets a target of having every student reaching high standards by 2013-14. North Carolina has made tremendous progress toward this target goal, and our ABCs results reflect that growth," Ward said.

     Overall, 35.5 percent of all schools met the standard for High Growth, and 39.3 percent met Expected Growth standards. Approximately one-fourth of the schools did not meet Expected Growth. In comparison, the 2000-01 results showed 24.1 percent making High Growth (called Exemplary Growth at that time) and 35.6 percent of schools meeting Expected Growth.

     The ABCs results for 2001-02 released today provide school-by-school performance results for all of the state’s 2,192 schools eligible to participate in the program. The 2001-02 school year was the sixth year that K-8 schools participated in the ABCs program, and the fifth year for high schools.

     The ABCs model recognizes both growth in student achievement and the percentage of students performing at grade level (Achievement Level III for grades 3-8) as measured by North Carolina end-of-grade tests or proficiency level (Achievement Level III for grades 9-12) on high school end-of-course tests.

     The entire ABCs report, including the recognition categories and a list of schools by recognition category or by school district is available online at

     This year, the requirements for ABCs recognition changed. The only two categories that remained exactly the same as in previous years are Schools of Excellence and Low-Performing Schools. The following categories are recognized under the ABCs:

  • School of Excellence – 90-100 percent of students’ scores at or above Achievement Level III (generally, grade level), school making Expected or High Growth.
  • School of Distinction – 80-89 percent of students’ scores at or above Achievement Level III, school making Expected or High Growth.
  • School of Progress – 60-79 percent of students’ scores at or above Achievement Level III, school making Expected or High Growth.
  • No Recognition – 60-100 percent of students’ scores at or above Achievement Level III, school making less than Expected Growth.
  • Priority Schools – Less than 60 percent of students’ scores at or above Achievement Level III and the school is not identified as Low-Performing.
  • Low-Performing Schools – Less than 50 percent of students’ scores at or above Achievement Level III and making less than Expected Growth.

     In 2001-02, a total of 648 schools (29.6 percent of all schools) were Schools of Distinction. Schools of Progress made up another 23.8 percent of schools (521), while 465 (21.2 percent) schools received No Recognition designations. Six percent (131) of all schools were classified as Priority Schools.

     School performance under the ABCs again means that incentive bonuses in the amount of approximately $101 million are expected to be awarded to staff in schools that attained expected or high growth targets. Although the writing assessments were removed from the performance composite of the ABCs this year, this action did not affect incentive bonuses, which are linked to growth calculations.

     The ABCs of Public Education emphasizes accountability at the school level and instruction in basic, core subjects. The model uses end-of-grade tests in reading and mathematics to measure student achievement in grades 3-8 for growth. It uses tests in reading, mathematics and computer skills for the performance composite. Grade 4 and 7 writing assessments were removed from the performance composite this year because of concerns about the tests’ volatility. The State Board of Education plans to completely reinstate writing assessments in the ABCs model’s growth calculations and performance composite by 2004-05.

     At the high school level, the accountability measures are more numerous and include student performance on the 10 mandatory end-of-course tests. These are: Algebra I; Algebra II; Biology; Chemistry; Economics, Legal and Political Systems; English I; Geometry; Physical Science; Physics; and U.S. History. Other measures include the percentage of students completing College/University Prep or College Tech Prep courses of study, change in the competency passing rate between grades 8 and 10, and the ABCs dropout rate.

     For more information about the ABCs report, please contact Lou Fabrizio, DPI Director of Accountability Services, at 919-807-3770; or the Division of Communications and Information at 919-807-3450.


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