Wake County Schools

Wake schools tackle achievement gap at community summit

Posted February 5, 2011 4:00 p.m. EST
Updated February 5, 2011 7:16 p.m. EST

— Research shows that white students in the Wake County Public School System outperform black students year after year, creating an achievement gap that's concerning for parents and educators.

According to the state's Department of Public Instruction, nearly 90 percent of white students in the county graduate high school, but only 64 percent of black students do.

High schools in Wake County administer End-of-Course Tests to measure proficiency in certain subject areas. At Enloe High School in Raleigh, for example, at least 90 percent or more of white students earned proficient scores on course-end English, algebra and biology tests.

About 75 percent of black students were proficient in English, but just 57 percent were proficient in biology and 36 percent in algebra.

On Saturday, the school system hosted a summit at Enloe on closing the achievement gap in Wake County.

To round out his first week on the job, Wake superintendent Tony Tata offered insight to the problem, and potential solutions to boosting student achievement.

"I want to really understand the context of what is happening here in Wake County, so I can make the best decisions as I lead this school district going forward," Tata said.

Tata has said that increasing student achievement and preparing students to compete in a global economy are his top priorities as superintendent.

The school system has an advisory committee in place that meets four times a year to review progress and looks at research-based practices in closing achievement gaps.

Saturday's conference at Enloe was organized by the school district to include parents and community members in the conversation about student achievement.

"The conversation, the information, the knowledge for the community of parents is the big initial step," said Eddie Harden, assistant principal at the high school.

Attendees offered a range of suggestions to tackle the problem: smaller class sizes, quality teachers, increased mentoring and tutoring programs. Tata praised one speaker's recommendation that struggling students should be pushed harder to succeed and that high expectations should be maintained for low-performing and high-performing students across the board.

"We need to make sure they have that same ethos," Tata said. "That they have the same culture of high expectations and (that we're) not pre-judging students."

School board member Keith Sutton had a similar message for parents and community members who attended the summit: "that it takes a focused effort, that it takes resources to help close the gap, because the achievement of all students is what's important."