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Race Gap Found in School Grade Promotions

Every year, more and more students who don't make the grade move up to the next grade anyway. When the statistics are broken down by race, more white children are getting the benefit of the doubt when they're on the bubble.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Freddie Bullock only wants his daughter, Crystal, to get her diploma. But he's concerned her school is trying to convince her to get her GED instead.

“You know, people are concerned when they see you started something and then quit,” he said. “That’s a mark on you.”

Crystal said she is determined to get her diploma, because she thinks it will look better on future resumes, and it will help her get the jobs she wants.

If she drops out, Crystal would become another black student who did not get ahead.

This is a concern statewide, because black students are being held back at higher rates. In Wake County, half of all children who are held back are black. Although the retention rates in Wake County are relatively low at 4 percent, school system officials are concerned about the racial breakdown.

“That’s a huge concern for us,” said David Holdzkom, assistant superintendent for evaluation and research. “Because we don’t want to have a systemic fail.”

In some grades, more black children are held back than their white counterparts when they are on the bubble.

For the 2005-2006 school year, 9,120 students didn’t meet state standards for third grade. Nearly 89 percent of white students were promoted anyway compared with 85 percent of black children.

“I think it all boils down to parent involvement,” said Calla Wright, a spokeswoman for the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African-American Children.

Wright believes the achievement gap would be narrowed and retention rates would be lowered if more parents of black children got involved.

“A lot of times they come in at the end," she said. "They don’t know what things to say or do or how to conduct a parent-teacher conference.”

Wake Forest-Rolesville High School Principal Andre Smith said individual principals need to take notice because principals get the final say in who gets promoted and who stays behind.

“I think every principal has the responsibility to look at the numbers and see what the root cause of the problem is,” Smith said.

Wake Forest-Rolesville High School has a unique approach that is working. The school has a freshman academy that gives individualized attention to students. Over the last five years, the school has had a lower retention rate of freshmen than the average systemwide.

The topic of retention rates in Wake County is the focus of a forum this Saturday at Hunter Elementary School in Raleigh. The Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African-American Children will host the conversation from 10 a.m. to noon. Speakers from Wake County and the state will be there.


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