Annual North Carolina schools report shows limited progress

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Fewer of North Carolina's 1.5 million public school students are attending problem schools, but the annual snapshot released Wednesday showing how the state's classrooms are doing shows few significant changes in recent years.

There are nearly three dozen fewer schools in the more than 400 statewide that year after year show poor performance in teaching children, the annual school accountability report showed. Six consistently low-performing elementary or middle schools are being considered for a state takeover next year.

But many other measures from the 2017-18 school year were status quo.

Once again, fewer than half the elementary and middle school students tested last spring were ready to tackle both reading and math in the next grade. The percentage of 11th-graders taking a college admission exam deemed ready to attend a public university has fallen in each of the past two years. Graduation rates were frozen. The same share of the state's more than 2,500 traditional and charter schools earned As or Bs under the state's A-to-F grading system.

"When we dig into the data, we see that some results go up, some results go down, but consistently the trend is that we are not where we want to be for students," state schools Superintendent Mark Johnson said. "We really seem to be plateauing."

Public schools are serving an increasing number of children from poor families who may get less learning help at home, and that's an important reason why performance measures have stalled, state school board chairman William Cobey said in an interview.

He and Johnson pointed separately to plans to expand personalized learning — where students learn at their own pace using computer packages and other methods.

"I think that is where we're going to see improvement," said Cobey, who is stepping down Thursday after five years of leading the state school board.

Johnson said teachers and principals are working harder than ever, but their efforts are deadened by "the system that they're confined in."

"We have been trying the same thing in our public education system for a number of years. Our system was designed 100 years ago to fit for a society in the industrial age," Johnson said. For example, middle schools and high schools should decrease the message that college is necessary for a successful work life when computer and other technical skills are in high demand.

Teachers will spend less time preparing for standardized tests and more time on instruction, Johnson said.

He also pointed to an experiment that school district in Rowan County and Salisbury is trying this year. Under a new state law, the 19,000-student school district will have increased flexibility to skip state guidelines and shake up scheduling, staffing, curriculum and handling its finances.

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Follow Emery P. Dalesio on Twitter at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/emery%20dalesio


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