High School slips from a B to a C on state report card

Barbara Hootman

Owen High School has slipped from a B to a C on its state report card, it learned recently.

Like many administrators in the Buncombe County Schools system, Owen High principal Meg Turner doesn’t believe the grade given Owen’s 2014-15 school year is indicative of the caliber of education the school’s students are receiving.

“I don’t think it fairly represents the tremendous achievements that Owen High students are making,” she said recently.

In North Carolina, one of more than a dozen states to have implemented A-F grades for its public schools, 80 percent of a high school’s grade is based upon student achievement and 20 percent upon student educational growth. The achievement score incorporates end-of-course test scores from Math I, English II and Biology, along with four-year graduation rates and other criteria. Growth includes student performance compared to previous years’ performance.

The number of students upon which Owen’s C grade was based included a small number of the high school’s overall student body, Turner noted in a Nov. 21 email to faculty - 189 students in English II, 190 in Biology and 126 in Math I.

Grading schools A-F is part of an effort to let families know how educators are doing. The idea to label schools with a simple A through F got its foothold in Florida in 1999 with former governor and 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush.

On Nov. 21, when the information about school report cards was made public, Turner congratulated her teachers.

“While our school accountability results indicated that we did not meet growth this past year,” she said in an email to teachers, “please remember that it is based on a very small snapshot of students in three classes.

“A much better indication of how our students are progressing is our overall school growth index. ... (In) 2014-15, we had the highest educator effectiveness growth estimate since this type of data collection began three years ago. This means there is significant evidence that our students are making more progress than the state growth standards.”

Turner said she was proud of her staff and disappointed about the C grade.

“I am proud of our school’s commitment to improve the learning experience for our students but disappointed that this accountability measure is not published in the way the data from our three EOC exams is published.”

Thomas Turner, a language arts teacher at Owen High, echoed Turner’s thoughts.

“I would say that teachers find these overly simplistic school report cards dispiriting,” he said in an email. “By any reasonable measure, Owen High did quite well. It’s frustrating when the good work you are doing is not recognized.

“I really think the community knows we are doing good work, but ill-conceived measures of success like these send the wrong message. In fact, it has the potential to affect the student body as well. Owen has genuine school spirit among the student body; not all schools have this. To the extent that this school report card fails to accurately represent the hard work of the students, faculty, and administration, it runs the risk of damaging this school spirit.”

Thomas Turner isn’t the only Owen High teacher disappointed with the school’s grade

“I believe that the students at Owen High School are exceeding growth every day,” Nathaniel Lyda, a social studies teacher, said. “They are completing amazing projects on 3-D printers, competing in athletic and academic competitions at the state and national level and continuing their education in colleges and the military. (They) continually surprise me every day with their resourcefulness in fundraisers and charities.

“Einstein said that if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will go its whole life thinking it’s ignorant. The students at Owen High School should not be judged on an assessment that strips them of creativity and the sound judgment they will need to be successful in the 21st Century.”

Owen High School exceeded expected growth during the 2012 to 2014 school years, Turner said.

“That is a record to be proud of for all our teachers and students,” she said.

Buncombe County Schools Superintendent Tony Baldwin agrees with Turner that snapshots of student test results are not indicative of the total educational picture.

“Mrs. Turner is certainly one of our strongest instructional leaders in the district,” he said. “I have heard her speak on many occasions how important the concepts of both individual student and school growth are when it comes to examining the quality and success of the learning environment.

“As the school performance grading process continues to be reviewed for future adjustments, my hope is that the growth Mrs. Turner referenced will be considered for stronger weight in the final formula. Likewise, I believe that Meg’s concern regarding a minimal of only three courses used in the composite measure is a valid point. As the formula used in the composite measure is also reviewed, it would be a strengthened representation if more subject areas were reflected.”