Merrill: State report cards will not show Wake schools' progress
Posted February 4, 2015
Updated February 6, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — Overall achievement is up in the Wake County Public School System – over 80 percent of students met or exceeded state academic standards within the past two years – but Superintendent Jim Merrill doesn’t believe such will be reflected when state school report cards are released Thursday.
“Remember this when you hear about a school’s single-grade measure later this week,” he said during his State of the Schools address Wednesday night.
During his presentation, Merrill mentioned a number of statistics highlighting the district’s progress in 2013-14:
- The number of students passing state tests increased from 64.8 percent to 66.6 percent.
- Proficiency rates for English and language arts increased in four out of seven grades; five out of seven grades for math.
- Science proficiency rates increased by four points in grade 5 and two points in grade 8.
- Wake students are outperforming state and national averages on the ACT and SAT.
- The district’s graduation rate increased to 82.9 percent, the highest since the state began tracking cohort graduation rates nine years ago. Merrill said the increase was driven by more minority and poor students graduating.
“You might think that a point here or there is not a lot, but when you’re talking about moving scores and scores and scores of children up a single percentage point, that’s a lot of heavy lifting going on just to move one point,” Merrill said.
Part of Merrill’s speech focused on the new school report cards, which assigns each public school a letter grade partly based on achievement (80 percent) and academic growth (20 percent).
“We never believed placing a single grade on a school made much sense,” he said. “It simply falls short of the mark…what they do not offer is an explanation of why the information logically translates to a single grade for an entire school.”
In response, the district released detailed progress reports for each school that compares state test results, the quality of teachers (staff turnover, percentage of experienced teachers, etc.), school climate (percentage of parents who support teachers, etc.) and teachers' views on school leadership (whether school leaders support teachers, etc.) to district and state averages.
“No single letter can convey this to parents,” said Merrill, who described the progress reports as logical, transparent, detailed and credible. “Do we really think our parents are unable to process more information about their children than single letter grade?”
Merrill concluded his address by highlighting elements of the district’s recently passed five-year strategic plan, which focuses on educating students who are prepared for a “complex and changing world” and who are “collaborative, creative and critical thinkers.”
The document comes after months of the district soliciting public input through stakeholder focus groups, town hall meetings and an online survey where nearly 10,000 people shared their thoughts on the state’s largest school district.
The plan also includes a goal of graduating at least 95 percent of students that are “ready for higher education, career and productive citizenship,” a goal Merrill says is possible.
“It’s the type of goal this community should set for itself,” he said.