State News

NC graduation rates rising; student performance falling

Posted August 4, 2011 4:01 a.m. EDT
Updated August 4, 2011 4:36 p.m. EDT

— High school graduation rates in North Carolina are up in 2011, but the number of schools meeting state and federal performance measures has dropped, the state Department of Public Instruction said Thursday.

The graduation rate jumped to 77.7 percent, the highest four-year graduation rate ever reported in the state, according to the DPI's annual ABCs of Education report, which shows how students performed on end-of-year and end-of-course tests in grades 3 through 12.

Last year, the graduation rate was 74.2 percent.

But the report also shows that 81.4 percent of schools met or exceeded their academic growth, a decline from 88 percent in 2009-10.

Thirteen schools are considered low-performing schools, meaning less than half of students scored at or above achievement level. Two were schools in Durham County, and six were in Halifax County, where the state began revamping the school system there two years ago because of past student achievement issues. The state expects to see progress there next year, officials said.

In Wake County, where 95.1 percent of schools met expected growth, 96 schools received special recognition for high achievement – the highest since 2006.

The reasons for the drop are unclear, state schools superintendent June Atkinson said, but might be a result of several years of budget cutbacks forcing staff cuts that result in fewer educators working with students.

"I do believe that these drops reflect the continued education cuts that we have had to make over the past three years," she said. "It is absolutely no secret that when state resources for teachers and students shrink, it becomes more and more challenging to provide every student with the specialized attention that he or she may need to learn at the highest level."

Nearly one-third of the tested North Carolina students in grades 3 through 8 were are not reading and calculating math at grade level, the state Department of Public Instruction said.

Scores show about 203,000 students in those grades out of about 688,000 who were tested are not reading in step with expectations and about 121,000 were behind in math.

The state's public schools have about 1.5 million students.

The report also shows that 700 schools, or 27.7 percent, met federal No Child Left Behind standards, with 1,830 of the 2,530 not meeting the federal Adequate Yearly Progress standard.

The AYP measure requires schools to meet specific performance targets for groups of students. Missing one target means a school does not make AYP.

The schools meeting AYP fell to 28 percent in 2011 from 58 percent last year, but school officials say that's because of more stringent proficiency standards implemented this year. If the new standards had been applied to last year, AYP would have been 28 percent then, also.

Of those not making AYP, 432 missed the target for only one subgroup in the school. The one subgroup that caused most schools to miss was economically disadvantaged students.