Education officials dispute McDowell High listing

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Posted: Friday, September 20, 2013 3:49 pm

McDowell High School’s inclusion on an Internet list called the “Top 100 Worst Performing Public Schools in the U.S.” is unwarranted, local education officials said Friday.

On Thursday, WLOS reported that McDowell was ranked number 17 on the list of worst-performing public schools on a site called NeighborhoodScout.

The McDowell News contacted NeighborhoodScout, which is an online real estate site, to see how the company determined the rankings of elementary, middle and high schools.

The company referred the newspaper back to the businesses’ frequently-asked-questions section, and didn’t give details as to what specific assessments and factors were looked at or how many schools were reviewed for the study.

The email said the company developed the list using “patented statistical formulas which effectively created a nationwide comparison tool.”

The FAQ provided no real answer as to which exact assessments the data site, which mostly caters to perspective homeowners for a fee, used to compile its list.

School officials, too, were unsure how McDowell High ended up on the list.

“The only thing we can determine is that we think they pulled from the (North Carolina) State Report Cards,” said McDowell County Schools Public Information Officer Brian Oliver. “If you look at those numbers (from McDowell High School) it doesn’t paint a pretty picture, but that isn’t saying much, since only a small percentage of freshman attend McDowell High School.”

Because McDowell is still on the junior high system, the numbers for freshmen attending McDowell High – there are very few right now – aren’t indicative of the overall performance of ninth-graders in the county.

Each year, the North Carolina State Report Cards provide parents and those invested in the school system an overview of how schools are doing based on student and school performance and school safety.

Oliver stated that two of the three subjects on the state report cards are geared toward high school freshmen, and that if you look at the percentage of students performing at or above state level in the district, as opposed to those who only attend McDowell High School, that creates a clearer picture.

For instance, 83.7 percent of students scored at or above grade level on the Algebra I assessment, compared to 78.7 percent at the state level. On the English I exam, 87.1 percent of students scored at or above grade level compared to 82.9 percent at the state level.

“More than 90 percent of our freshmen go to the junior highs and two tests measured on the state report card are given at the junior high level in McDowell County,” said Oliver. “We have to serve our students in the best environment based on their needs. The students that are not at the junior highs are served based on their needs.”

Oliver also stated that he expected state report card scores at McDowell High School to even out once the school system transitions to a middle school setting, since the scores of all ninth-graders will be taken into the account at the high school level then.

Parents who have any concerns about McDowell High School making the worst list are encouraged to look at the Department of Public Instruction’s North Carolina Report Cards page where they can see what percentage of students at their child’s school are performing at or above grade level.

If they have any questions beyond that, Oliver stated that any school leader would be able to sit down with them and help them work through the data.