NC's graduation rate, school grades improve, but 'stubborn concerns' remain
Posted September 7
Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina public school students performed better on reading, math and science tests last school year, and the state saw an increase in the percentage of students graduating high school, according to the state's latest school performance data, which were released at Thursday's State Board of Education meeting.
"But deeper into the data, the results show stubborn concerns," according to North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson.
North Carolina's graduation rate jumped from 85.8 percent to 86.5 percent last school year, marking the 12th consecutive year the rate has improved. In 2005-06, the state's graduation rate was 68.3 percent.
The state also released A through F letter grades for every public school in the state, including charter schools. All North Carolina public schools have received A-F letter grades since 2013-14, when the General Assembly passed legislation requiring it. Schools are also judged on whether their students exceeded, met or did not meet academic growth expectations during the year.
In the fourth year of the state’s A-F grading system, the percentage of A or B schools (35.8 percent) continued to climb and the percentage of D and F schools (22.6 percent) fell compared to the 2015-16 school year. A majority (56.5 percent) of the state’s high schools earned a grade of B or better.
But school grades continue to correlate strongly with the poverty levels of schools. Among all schools in 2016-17 that received a D or F, 92.9 percent had enrollments with at least 50 percent of students from low-income families. Conversely, among schools that received at least a B, 72.5 percent had enrollments with less than 50 percent of students from low-income families.
For 2016-17, 505 schools were identified as low performing and 11 districts were low performing, both up from 489 schools and 10 districts in 2015-16. The number of recurring low-performing schools increased from 415 in 2015-16 to 468 in 2016-17.
"It’s great news that the top-line trends are in the right direction. We can all be proud, for instance, that most schools meet or exceed growth," State Superintendent Johnson said. "But deeper into the data, the results show stubborn concerns that call out for innovative approaches. It is with innovation and personalized learning that we can transform incremental progress into generalized success."
Results from last year's state exams show 59.2 percent of public school students in North Carolina were proficient enough to move to the next grade, an improvement from 2015-16, when 58.3 percent were proficient. Overall, reading scores for grades 3 through 8 also improved last school year, with 57.5 percent of students showing proficiency compared to 56.9 percent in 2015-16.
However, the state saw no improvement in third-grade reading, with 57.8 percent of students reading proficiently – the same as the previous year. Fourth-grade reading declined slightly, from 58 percent proficiency in 2015-16 to 57.7 percent last school year.
Education leaders have focused extra attention on third-grade reading in recent years. North Carolina adopted its "Read to Achieve" program in 2012, requiring students to pass a battery of reading tests by the end of the third grade. Those who don't pass receive extra support and can attend summer reading camps to help them prepare for fourth grade.
Early reading is also a priority for the state superintendent, who unveiled a statewide reading initiative in April called NC Reads, which gives young students more access to books, even during the summer.
Source: N.C. Department of Public Instruction
Meanwhile, the state celebrated its rising graduation numbers for the 12th consecutive year. While North Carolina's graduation rate improved to 86.5 percent last school year, the Wake County Public School System also set its own graduation record at 88.5 percent, up from 87.1 percent the previous school year. The district has set a goal to graduate at least 95 percent of students annually by 2020.
Of Wake County's 30 high schools, 21 had graduation rates of 90 percent or higher. Sanderson High School in Raleigh, which boasted the biggest jump in the state in 2016 with nearly 90 percent of its students graduating, saw a decline with 86.9 percent of its students graduating in 2017.
Three Wake County early colleges had 100 percent graduation rates – Wake STEM Early College, Wake Early College of Health & Science, and Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy.
While Wake County saw an overall increase in its graduation rates, other local school systems saw slight declines in 2017, including:
- Durham Public Schools – 81.4 percent of students graduated, down from 82.1 percent in 2016
- Orange County Schools – 89.1 percent of students graduated, down from 89.3 percent in 2016
- Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools – 89.6 percent of students graduated, down from 90.1 percent in 2016
- Cumberland County Schools – 81.4 percent of students graduated, down from 81.9 percent in 2016