‘Dig a little deeper’: How school report cards can impact a parent’s choice

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Daniel Gray is the proud principal of Hidden Valley Elementary School.

“My teachers are the hardest working individuals I’ve ever been around in 21 years of education,” Gray said.

It’s a Title I School, where many students show up hungry or without the resources to learn. Still, he said they’re all making great strides.

“In my school, our kids have the same abilities as anywhere else,” Gray said.

But, a quick look at the school’s report card, which is calculated by the State Department of Instruction, paints a conflicting picture.

Hidden Valley has a 'D' or a ’53′ on a scale of 100.

“One of the things I look at my staff and say is regardless of what a school report card says, we don’t do 'D' work here," Gray said. "A 'D' would mean that we’re not putting forth effort, we’re not really digging in and leaning into the work that needs to be done for our students. What that 'D' represents is there are more challenges here.”

Looking closer at that 'D' grade, 80 percent of it is based on achievement. For elementary and middle schools, that means state test scores. For high schools, it’s test scores, graduation rates, ACT performance and the percentage of students passing Math 3.

Twenty percent is based on growth, or the progress of a student, compared to the average progress of students across the state.

According to the state, when students are progressing far above the average, the school is exceeding expected growth. Consistent with the average means they're meeting expected growth.

Hidden Valley’s latest achievement score is 45.8, but its latest growth score is 82.5, which means it is meeting expectations for student progress. The school has met or exceeded growth since 2014.

Gray attributes that in part to his teachers, the school culture, curriculum and community partnerships.

“We are meeting growth and we’re exceeding growth and kids are significantly closing those gaps, but the issue is when you look at that school report card it doesn’t necessarily show that work in it unfortunately,” Gray said.

A quick look at another school, Garinger High School for example, shows a similar picture. Garinger has exceeded growth each year since 2014, most recently scoring 97 in 2019 and 100 in 2018.

But, the school’s official performance grade from the state is still a ‘C.’

"They’re looking and the first thing they see is a "D" school or an "F" school or even a "C" school in some situations and the red flag goes off in a parents mind you know as a parent myself I would think the same way if I didn’t know differently," Gray said.

That score can impact where people want to live and how a community is perceived.

"A lot of them are always looking at the grades," Molly Zahn Harrison, a real estate broker, said of buyers.

Reporter Elsa Gillis asked her if she thinks people are diving into the nuances of a score or whether they take it for face value.

“I think a lot of them take if for face value,” Harrison said. “Because they don’t really know what to look for I think when they look at those numbers.”

She said she sees a direct tie between perceived good schools, or schools with higher grades, and increased home prices and neighborhood growth.

“We can see homes, again, in those neighborhoods where they border different schools we can see a five, or ten percent difference in pricing just because of the schools they are assigned to,” Harrison said.

Harrison said if a family is looking for advice, she suggests they go visit the school in person and speak with neighbors and other parents to determine if a school is a good fit for a child.

“People have to dig a little deeper,” Gray says “We know what kind of place Hidden Valley is and we know it’s a great place to be and we’re really working hard to change the narrative as far as what the public sees because I want families to come in.”

As for the 80/20 split, a representative for NCDPI said that’s determined by the state legislature. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has asked to change the system in the past, and again this year, requesting a two-grade system, one for growth and one for proficiency.

The North Carolina Association of Educators has also pushed to have growth weighed more heavily.

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