Racial achievement gap persists at Wake schools

A new audit prompts the Wake County school board to set new goals

Staff WriterJune 19, 2011 

Wake County school board members agreed Saturday to set new goals for improving minority student performance after a report showing that the state's largest school district isn't closing its racial achievement gap.

Superintendent Tony Tata told board members that a new outside audit shows that Wake hasn't closed the achievement gap on state exams between white students and minority students. The new audit draws different conclusions from internal reports showing that the gap has narrowed in Wake.

"The bottom line is ... there has been no reduction in the achievement gap in the last three or four years, so that tells us we've got to do something to get after that," Tata said at Saturday's school board retreat.

Board members discussed with Tata what to include in his strategic plan at their second retreat since he became superintendent Jan. 31.

At Tata's request, the board agreed to set new performance targets for increasing over time students' passing rate on exams.

Tata will consult staff and principals before coming back to the board with "reasonable" targets for each racial and ethnic group. He said he'd also discuss what impact meeting those individual goals would have on Wake's overall achievement.

Setting goals

He said they'd discuss then whether also to adopt a systemwide performance goal. Prior Wake school boards have set goals both to try to reach them and to encourage community support for schools.

"To have a goal, for some folks, shows you're headed toward something," board member Keith Sutton said. "It guides your actions."

Tata also will present strategies that can be used to narrow the achievement gap.

The new audit, which will be presented officially at Tuesday's meeting, is one of three free audits being done for Tata by the Broad Superintendents Academy. The California academy trains people with no background in education, such asTata, a retired Army general, to work in urban school districts.

A Broad organizational audit resulted in Tata announcing earlier this month that he's creating the new position of deputy superintendent for school performance to oversee academic issues.

The new audit

The latest Broad audit, done by a team from Harvard University, looked at achievement gaps in Wake.

Reports done by the district have said the achievement gap is closing because of recent increases in the percentages of minority students passing state exams. Some supporters of the discarded diversity-based student assignment policy have cited the data to argue that Wake was moving in the right direction.

But Tata said the audit team looked at the actual scores, called scale scores, for the students. While the passing rate has gone up for some minority groups, Tata said the team found that there wasn't a gain in the scale scores between them and white students.

Sutton said the new report doesn't change his position that Wake should have kept the old diversity policy.

"The goal of the assignment policy wasn't to close the achievement gap," Sutton said. "The goal was to balance schools to improve the chances for schools to better educate their students."

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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