Graduation rates increase for North Carolina schools

Staff writerAugust 4, 2011 

— More North Carolina public school students are graduating from high school and passing state exams but fewer schools met state academic improvement standards or federal No Child Left Behind requirements.

New figures released today show that the graduation rate improved to 77.7 percent from 74.2 percent. This news comes after the release of a report in June that found that North Carolina’s graduation rate had moved above the national average for the first time.

"77.7 percent is not where we want to be but it certainly is cause to pause and celebrate," said Bill Harrison, chairman of the state Board of Education.

Figures from the state's school accountability program, called the ABCs of Public Education, also showed increases in the percentages of students passing state exams.

But the good news was tempered by other figures showing that schools where students' academic growth met or exceeded expectations dropped to 81.4 percent, compared to 88 percent last year.

More schools also failed to meet a federal standard called adequate yearly progress, or AYP. The percentage of schools making AYP dropped from 58 percent last year to 27.7 percent. Under the federal law called No Child Left Behind, student subgroups, including American Indian, multi-racial, white, black, economically disadvantaged, and others, must hit or pass state targets for reading and math scores. If just one of the subgroups doesn't make it, the school doesn't make adequate yearly progress.

The drop was expected this year because of sharply higher reading and math targets. The goal of No Child Left Behind is to have 100 percent of students passing by 2014.

State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson called No Child Left Behind "a flawed system" that needs to be changed because of its all-or-nothing nature for assessing school performance. "It does not indicate that schools are not educating students," she said.

Low-performing schools - defined as those that don't meet improvement goals and where more than half the students failed the tests - dropped from 16 to 13 this year. But the number of low-performing schools in Halifax County, which is now under state control, increased from four to six.

This year’s test results came after a bruising battle over state education funding. The Republican-controlled state legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto to approve a budget that cut K-12 education funding by six percent.

For the third year in a row, the state’s budget woes eliminating funding for a program that paid teachers and teacher assistants bonuses based on whether their schools met academic growth expectations.

Atkinson said state officials are concerned that fewer schools met growth goals this year. She said funding cuts are the culprit, pointing to how class sizes have risen as schools have had to make do with less in the past few years.

"I do believe that these drops reflect the continued education cuts we’ve had to make the past few years," Atkinson said.

Democratic leaders had cited figures such as the state’s rising graduation rate to argue that North Carolina's education system was working, despite criticism from Republican lawmakers who have pushed for various alternatives including expanding charter schools, merit pay for teachers and some limited vouchers for private schools.

"There are people who are beating up our schools," Harrison said today after the results were released. "We need to celebrate the great things that are happening."

Locally, Wake County saw gains with 95 percent of schools meeting or exceeding growth goals, up from 89 percent the prior year. Wake also saw more schools with passing rates above 80 percent and who also met growth goals, going from 49.7 percent to 60.4 percent of the district’s schools.

Johnston County had eight schools with passing rates above 90 percent, up from five schools the prior year. But the percentage of schools meeting or exceeding growth targets fell from 90.5 percent to 84 percent.

Durham schools declined, with three schools – down from seven three last year - meeting their student progress goals and having passing rates of at least 80 percent. The number of schools meeting progress goals also dropped from 44 to 39.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools improved, with 11 schools - up from 10 last year - meeting their student progress goals and having passing rates of at least 90 percent.

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

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