NC's graduation rate, school grades improve

Posted September 1, 2016 1:00 p.m. EDT
Updated September 7, 2017 12:24 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina released its latest public school performance data Thursday, showing the state's graduation rate and school grades improved last year.

The state's graduation rate increased slightly, from 85.6 percent in 2014-15 to 85.8 percent last school year. This marks the 11th consecutive year that the rate has improved. In 2005-06, the state's graduation rate was 68.3 percent.

"If I could do a back flip about the graduation rate, I would do that," State Superintendent June Atkinson told reporters Thursday.

The four-year graduation rate for students from low-income families increased by 1 percentage point from 2014-15, reaching 80.6 percent last year. The rate for black students increased by 0.7 points, to 82.9 percent. The gain for both the state overall and for white students was 0.3 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Select the bars on the graphic to see NC's graduation rates from 2005-06 to 2016-17.

Graphic by: Valerie Aguirre/WRAL
Source: N.C. Department of Public Instruction

The Wake County Public School System set its own graduation record at 87 percent, and Sanderson High School had the biggest jump in the state with nearly 90 percent of its students graduating last year.

"Really, graduation rates are not about the seniors that are sitting in the class right now. Graduation rate starts the first day of ninth grade," said Sanderson High Principal Greg Decker.

For the staff, that means intervening at the first sign of struggle and finding a path to proficiency.

"When you or I went to school, the teacher dictated how you show mastery. It was either this way or no way. We've dropped that," Decker said.

They now turn to technology or a team approach to help students improve.

"It doesn't matter how they get it, whether it's in the traditional classroom, on a computer, whatever works for that student, I think we need to be able to provide it that way," said Bess Turner, an English teacher and School Improvement Chair at Sanderson High.

State releases A-F letter grades for all schools

The state on Thursday also released A through F letter grades for every public school in the state, including charter schools. Find out what grade your school received.

Three fourths of public schools in the state earned school performance grades of A, B or C in 2015-16. The proportion of schools receiving Ds and Fs fell last year to less than a quarter (23.2 percent) of all schools – a decline of nearly 20 percent among schools with the lowest grades over the last three years, from 707 to 571.

Comparing traditional schools to charter schools, 32.2 percent of traditional schools earned a grade of at least B, while 40 percent of charters made similar grades. At the other end of the scale, 22.9 percent of traditional schools received a D or F and 27.7 percent of charters received one of those grades.

The data show school grades continue to correlate closely with the poverty levels of schools. Among all schools last year that received a D or F, 93 percent had enrollments with at least 50 percent of students from low-income families. Conversely, among schools that received at least a B, 75.7 percent had enrollments with less than 50 percent of students from low-income families, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

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.

On state exams, the percentage of students proficient in math and science improved across all grades in elementary, middle and high school. However, reading and high school English performance was more mixed.

In grades 3-8, students' proficiency in reading increased to 56.9 percent from 56.3 percent in 2014-15. In math, the overall proficiency rate increased to 54.7 percent from 52.2 percent. Proficiency in science, tested in fifth and eighth grades and in high school biology, reached 71.6 percent in fifth grade, 73.9 percent in eighth grade and 55.5 percent in high school biology.

Another improvement coming out of Thursday's report was that the Halifax County school system is no longer considered low performing. The state has been working with the county under a court order since 2009 to improve student performance there.

Last year, the State Board of Education took over financial management of Halifax County Schools.