Embargoed until 10 a.m.
Aug. 5, 2004

Student Test Scores Highest Ever; 70 Percent of Schools Meet Federal Standards

     North Carolina's school improvement efforts over the past decade continued to show results in 2003-04. More students than ever before scored at the proficient level or better, and 75.1 percent of schools met or exceeded academic growth expectations. In addition, 70.5 percent of the schools met federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals.

     A total of 563 schools earned designation in the state's new school performance category, Honor Schools of Excellence. This category is the highest designation possible under the ABCs of Public Education and identifies schools that have at least 90 percent of their students' test scores at or above the proficient level, met at least Expected Growth and also met the federal AYP standard.

     The state's 2003-04 ABCs accountability results, which were approved by the State Board of Education today, also reflected that in 2003-04, achievement gaps among different racial groups narrowed across all groups.

     North Carolina began an aggressive effort of school improvement in 1995, with legislative approval of the ABCs of Public Education, the state's first school-based accountability model. The ABCs differed from previous efforts by focusing at the school level, providing incentive bonuses to educators in schools that excelled and assigning assistance teams to the lowest performing schools.

     "North Carolina continues to make progress because we are committed to our students," said Gov. Mike Easley. "These results demonstrate that our commitment to high standards and accountability and our investments in the classroom are paying off and building a high-skill workforce to remain competitive in this new economy. Despite this continuing progress however, we cannot and will not be satisfied until we have the best education system in America."

     "The long-term goals of the ABCs are to raise achievement levels for students and to close achievement gaps," State Superintendent Mike Ward said. "The 2003-04 results show that both of these goals are being realized in North Carolina."

     State Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee said, "It is critically important that North Carolina not only close gaps, but raise achievement overall. All students need to be challenged to achieve at their highest potential."

Achievement gaps continue to close

     The percentage of elementary and middle school students performing at or above the proficient level, also called grade level on both the reading and mathematics tests across grades 3-8, is 81.3 percent for the state as a whole. This percent is up from 80.8 last year statewide. Grade level performance is considered to be minimal preparation for success at the next grade level. In 1996-97, the first year of statewide implementation of the ABCs, 61.7 percent of students were considered proficient.

     The reduction in achievement gaps is an important indicator of success for North Carolina schools, which have been focusing attention on this issue for several years. In 2003-04, the achievement gap between black and white students narrowed further from the previous year to 21.5 percentage points, down from 34.3 percentage points in the first year of the ABCs.

     A total of 89.2 percent of white students in grades 3-8 scored at or above grade level or proficient in both reading and mathematics. This is up slightly from 2002-03 when 88.8 percent scored at this level. The percentage for black students was 67.7 percent, up from 66.9 in the prior year.

     Similarly, for Hispanic students, 71.7 percent performed at or above grade level in 2003-04, up from 70.2 percent in 2002-03. For American Indian students, 73.6 percent performed at or above grade level in reading and math in 2003-04, a slight increase from 72.3 percent in 2002-03. American Indian students have posted the best improvement among the various groups in the past few years, gaining 30.7 percentage points since 1996-97.

     For Asian students, 88.6 percent were at or above grade level on the end-of-grade tests this year, up from 87.4 percent last year. For multiracial students, 84.8 percent performed at or above grade level on the tests, an improvement from 83.9 percent.

Seven in 10 schools make AYP targets

     North Carolina schools met 96.2 percent or 35,661 of 37,087 of their performance targets under No Child Left Behind, the federal education law. A total of 70.5 percent of all schools met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), up from 46.9 percent in 2002-03. NCLB requires that schools meet specific performance targets each year for every group of students. Each state is expected to meet a 100 percent proficiency standard by 2013-14. Because schools must meet every AYP target for every group of students in order to meet AYP for the school, this is a very rigorous standard.

     This year, North Carolina received authority from the U.S. Department of Education to use a confidence interval in determining which schools met AYP targets. A confidence interval is similar to the margin of error applied to polling data to account for imprecision in measurement. Using the confidence interval helps state education officials make more valid decisions about school performance. North Carolina requested this authority after education officials recognized that a majority of other states were applying confidence intervals in determining AYP. Nonetheless, even if the confidence interval had not been applied this year, 56 percent of schools would have made AYP, a marked improvement over 2002-03.

School designations set

     In addition to measuring Adequate Yearly Progress under federal requirements, the ABCs accountability model measures school achievement in two other ways: the percentage of students' test scores at or above the proficient level (performance composite) and whether the school has met growth expectations based on changes in average scale scores for the same students from one year to the next. In 2003-04, 563 schools, 25.2 percent, earned a designation as Honor Schools of Excellence, the highest category. Thirty-three schools (1.5 percent) are Schools of Excellence, which means that they met at least Expected Growth and had 90 percent or more of their students' test scores at or above the proficient level.

     A total of 640 schools, or 28.7 percent, are designated as Schools of Distinction, which signifies that they met at least Expected Growth and had 80-89 percent of their student test scores at proficient or better.

     Two hundred eighty-two schools, 12.6 percent, are Schools of Progress, which means these schools met at least Expected Growth and had 60-79 percent of their student test scores at proficient or better. Five hundred forty-eight schools, or 24.6 percent, are No Recognition schools. These schools did not meet their Expected Growth goals even though they had 60-100 percent of their students' test scores at the proficient level or better.

     Fifty-one schools, 2.3 percent, are Priority Schools — schools with less than 50 percent of their student test scores at the proficient level or better and making Expected Growth or High Growth and schools that have 50-59 percent of student test scores at the proficient level or better regardless of growth.

     In 2003-04, 75.1 percent of all schools made High Growth or Expected Growth. This is down from the 94.3 percent that met High Growth or Expected Growth in 2002-03.

Incentive awards determined

     The ABCs program provides incentive awards to teachers, principals and other certified school-based staff, in addition to teacher assistants. In all schools that attain the High Growth standard, certified staff members each receive up to $1,500 incentive awards and teacher assistants receive up to $500. In schools attaining Expected Growth, certified staff members each receive up to $750 and teacher assistants receive up to $375. This year, approximately $101.9 million will be distributed to local school districts to pay these incentive awards.

Assistance teams assigned

     This year, two schools were identified as Low-Performing Schools. These schools have fewer than 50 percent of their students' test scores at the proficient level or above and did not make Expected Growth or High Growth.

     The State Board of Education approved the assignment of a State Assistance Team to Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology, Charlotte-Mecklenburg. East Winston Primary Charter School is the other identified school. Because it is a charter school, assistance will be offered to the school but not required. 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 recommended by the Department of Public Instruction to the State Board of Education and upon school requests as resources allow.

ABCs background information

     The ABCs results for 2003-04 released today provide school-by-school performance results for all of the state's 2,231 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 ABCs model emphasizes accountability at the school level and instruction in basic, core subjects. To determine growth, the model uses end-of-grade tests in grades 3-8 in reading, mathematics and computer skills (grade 8 only) for the performance composite at the elementary and middle school levels and prediction formulas for the 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 mandatory end-of-course tests. These are: Algebra I, Algebra II, Biology, Chemistry, English I, Geometry, Physical Science, and Physics. 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 lfabrizi@dpi.state.nc.us. The complete ABCs report is available online in a searchable format at http://abcs.ncpublicschools.org/abcs/.

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