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For immediate release
Sept. 10, 2003

ABCs Investment Pays Off;
Student Test Scores Reach Highest Level and Achievement Gaps are Closing

     North Carolina has stayed the course on school improvement efforts since 1995 when the ABCs of Public Education was first approved, and this year, the pay-off was the highest ever.

     The percentage of students performing at the proficient level, also considered grade level, is the highest in state history. Achievement gaps among different racial groups narrowed significantly and across all groups.

     The state's 2002-03 ABCs accountability results were approved by the State Board of Education today and reported at a news conference at Wakefield High School in Wake County.

     Black students and American Indian students gained approximately 10 percentage points each between 2001-02 and 2002-03, the school year reflected in the information provided today.

     While the achievement gap between white and black students remains the largest gap among ethnic groups, the gap has been reduced to 21.9 points, down from 34.3 points in 1996-97, the first year of the ABCs.

     "These gains prove that our commitment to protecting our investments in education is paying off," said Gov. Mike Easley. "Even in tough economic times our students and our schools are making dramatic progress." (Governor's Press Release, pdf, 88k)

     Nearly three-fourths of all schools – 72.9 percent — met the standards for high growth in 2002-03. Nearly every school in the state — 94.3 percent – met expected growth or better. Only 5.6 percent of schools, 124, had growth in student achievement that was less than expected. This was a large decrease from 2001-02, when 25.1 percent of all schools fell short of their goals for student achievement growth.

     Sixty-one percent of all schools, or 1,359, earned recognition in 2002-03 as either Schools of Distinction or Schools of Excellence, the two highest performance categories under the state's accountability model. In order to earn recognition as a School of Distinction, schools must have met at least expected growth and have 80-89 percent of their student test scores at grade level or above. To be a School of Excellence, a school must meet or exceed its growth goals and have 90 percent or more of its student scores at grade level or above.

     "North Carolina has seen steady improvements over the past seven years. This year's positive results did not come overnight or without tremendous effort by students, teachers and principals. The excellent news we are receiving today is the result of focused efforts at every level to help every student reach proficiency," said State Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee. "The General Assembly has provided unparalleled support for our schools, and schools have done what's right. They've studied the data, put resources where they're needed, celebrated success, and the results are clear. This is great news for our state."

     State Superintendent Mike Ward, in announcing the ABCs results, said that the results were very rewarding for anyone who cares about public schools. "Students made significant gains in 2002-03. Achievement is up for all students and performance gaps have narrowed. We owe a great deal of thanks to the teachers and principals in our schools. While these improvements are the result of many people's efforts, the teachers in the classroom and principals in each school have done the heavy lifting that has led to this success. The business community is providing unprecedented support for our schools, and parents are more engaged in their children's learning."

Achievement gaps narrow

     The reduction of in achievement gaps was especially welcome news to state educators who have been focusing attention on this issue for the past several years. Although some groups' scores continue to be lower than they should be, the gaps are closing more quickly than at any other time. At the same time, overall achievement for the state and for the top groups continued to rise as well.

     A total of 88.8 percent of white students scored at or above grade level in both reading and mathematics in grades three through eight, up from 84.4 percent in 2001-02. The percentage for black students was 66.9 percent, up from 56.6 percent in the previous year. The percentage at grade level for the state overall was 80.8, up from 74.7 percent.

     For Hispanic students, 70.2 percent performed at or above grade level in 2002-03, up from 62.1 percent in 2001-02. For American Indian students, 72.3 percent performed at or above grade level in reading and math in 2002-03, up from 62.7 percent in the prior year.

For Asian students, 87.4 percent were at or above grade level on the end-of-grade tests, up from 82.1 percent. For multiracial students, 83.9 percent performed at or above grade level on the tests, an improvement from 77.6 percent.

Most NCLB targets met

     In addition to achievement gap information, summary information regarding the state's performance under the federal No Child Left Behind law was available for the first time. This showed that North Carolina schools overall met 90.5 percent, 33,419, of the 36,917 targets that schools had to meet. Most schools, about 68 percent, met more than 90 percent of their targets. Because schools that miss even one target are not considered to have made Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal definition, 46.9 percent of schools made AYP. NCLB requires that schools meet specific performance targets each year for every group of students, culminating in 100 percent proficiency by 2013-14.

Schools have strong intervention programs

     Over the past several years, significant state and local efforts have been targeted toward improving student achievement. Together, all of these efforts have helped to drive improvements in learning and school performance. North Carolina legislators have supported efforts to help low-performing schools and students by providing additional financial resources for high priority schools and students not yet at grade level. North Carolina has been a leader in the area of closing achievement gaps by sharing best practices, by adding a closing the gap requirement to the ABCs and by focusing local efforts on helping all students grow academically.

     Many schools have implemented intervention programs for students below grade level, including additional instructional time, tutoring options and other supplements. Also there has been a very strong effort to align classroom instruction to the state's Standard Course of Study and to ensure that student time is spent on instructional activities.

Assistance teams assigned

     This year, only six schools statewide met the criteria of low-performing schools. The State Board of Education approved the assignment of State Assistance Teams to three of the low-performing schools. The other three low-performing schools are charter 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 schools upon request and as resources allow.

ABCs background information

     The ABCs results for 2002-03 that were released today provide school-by-school performance results for all of the state's 2,219 schools that were assigned an ABCs status. North Carolina's accountability model was implemented in 1996-97 in K-8 schools, and then in high schools in 1997-98. The model focuses on schools meeting growth expectations for student achievement as well as on the overall percentage of students who scored at grade level or better. Schools are recognized in several categories. In addition to the Schools of Excellence and Schools of Distinction categories, Schools of Progress are schools that have 60-79 percent of their students' scores at grade level or better and that meet their growth goals. Priority schools are those with less than 60 percent of students at grade level or better, but are not low performing. Low-performing schools are identified if they do not make expected growth and have less than 50 percent of student scores at grade level or better.

     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 and prediction formulas for end-of-course tests for growth. It uses end-of-grade tests in grades 3-8 in reading, mathematics and computer skills for the performance composite at the elementary and middle school levels and end-of-course tests at the high school level.

     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. The complete ABCs report is available online in a searchable format at http://abcs.ncpublicschools.org.


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