N.C. review system makes mark on Durham schools

WASHINGTON — North Carolina’s public schools received high marks in a national accountability study released this week by Education Week magazine.

“Quality Counts ’99,” an annual study that monitors states’ policies of rewarding success and punishing failure in education, lauded North Carolina as one of five states meeting six criteria crucial to school accountability:

* Testing all students to measure performance.

* “Report cards” on the schools themselves.

* State ratings that identify high-achieving and low-performing schools.

* Rewards for teachers at high-performing schools.

* Assistance to low-performing schools.

* Sanctions on failing schools.

Indiana, Maryland, New Mexico and Texas also topped the Bethesda, Md.-based publication’s list.

“North Carolina has one of the most complete and comprehensive accountability systems in the country,” Craig Jerald, project director and senior editor of Education Week, said at a
Thursday news conference. “Every single school gets a performance rating, and the state gives intensive assistance to schools they identify as doing poorly.”

Although all N.C. school districts must abide by state accountability measures, including the identification of low-performing schools and comprehensive end-of-year testing, Durham in particular has seen dramatic improvements as a result of the state program, state Superintendent of Schools Mike Ward said.

“The study results are especially encouraging to us because Durham has a number of challenges in terms of the community,” Ward said. “We have frequently contentious dialogue over issues of race and poverty. And if we can resolve these issues in education, then Durham is a terrific model for the rest of the state.”

Thirteen Durham public schools were rated as low-performing by the state two years ago, but the district implemented additional measures on its own that brought the number of failing schools down to one last year, said David Holdzkom, assistant superintendent for research, development and accountability in Durham.

That school, Southern High School, already has seen improvements under its new principal, Henry Pankey, Holdzkom said.

“We’ve communicated very clearly to all teachers and principals, and to parents and students as well, that our expectation is that our young people will make academic improvements each year,” Holdzkom said.

In addition to the five mandatory subject areas tested throughout the state, Durham public schools require end-of-year tests in subjects ranging from algebra to political science. In grades three through eight, Durham also tests after every nine-week marking period and monitors students in kindergarten through second grade for their reading ability. Standardized testing is not permitted in North Carolina for children K-2.

Jerald said despite its high record on accountability, North Carolina could improve its efforts to make school safety and teacher qualification ratings public knowledge.

“North Carolina might think about making that kind of information available to parents and taxpayers,” he said.

But Holdzkom said that, for its part, the Durham public school system conducts annual “customer satisfaction surveys” of teachers, parents and students, offering the results on the World Wide Web and in print form at parent-teacher association meetings. Both parents and students have given the school district favorable marks on safety and teacher instruction, he said.

“To me, as important as the issue of safety in our schools is the fact that we are asking people about it and making the results available,” he said. “If the criticism is that we’re not reporting results, then I think that’s an inappropriate criticism for Durham.

“One of the things educators have figured out is that there’s no silver bullet. If someone knew the perfect way to fix schools, it already would have been put it in a memo and delivered to our desks.”

Herald-Sun, The (Durham, NC) Date: January 9, 1999 Page: B3 Copyright, 1999, The Durham Herald Company