Newly released statewide test scores provide more detailed information than pass-fail rates from years past, but with different testing criteria the data represents apples to last year’s oranges. But next to other schools in the area, most of Garner’s schools’ 2013-14 data did not compare favorably. Cleveland schools fared better, albeit arguably with fewer challenges stemming from their lower poverty rates.
In particular, Garner’s middle schools and a few elementary schools struggled in proficiency, but all but one middle school at least met growth expectations (measured comparing student scores at the year’s beginning to the year’s end).
While Johnston schools trail Wake in academic achievement on average, Cleveland’s top schools proved second-to-none in Johnston’s system and compared favorably to most of Wake’s.
Cleveland Middle led the way in the Garner-Cleveland area in proficiency, surpassed in the two counties by just around one in five middle schools (none in Johnston county) with a composite of 74 percent of students passing and 65 percent exceeding expectations.
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“I attribute that to our teachers and students,” principal Ken Byrd said. “I also can give credit to the community and the parents as well because of their partnering with us regarding expectations of the students.”
Byrd also acknowledged that the school’s comparatively low poverty rate (about 23 percent of students get federally-funded free and reduced lunches) did not hurt the effort. More than half of both Garner middle schools receive free or cheap lunches. High poverty rates tend to drop test scores, and most Garner schools have higher rates than Cleveland schools.
Garner Magnet High School principal Drew Cook took pride in the school’s graduation rate of 83 percent, a 13-point increase from just two years ago He was also pleased that it exceeded student growth expectations, which put it in a minority of schools. But proficiency scores still trail about two-thirds of high schools in the two districts.
“Nobody is satisfied with 54 percent proficiency of the school. Growth is great and that’s what we want to do, but we want our kids to do better in the next few years,” Cook said.
Garner had been near the bottom of Wake County not many years ago, and when the differences from last year’s proficiency standards are equalized, the school did slightly increase proficiency this year.
One of those schools outscoring Garner High was Cleveland High. Its scores that would put them in the top-half of generally higher-performing Wake County.
Principal Anne Meredith expressed particular pride in the school’s End of Course Math I improvement as well as the fact that it exceeded student growth expectations.
“I thought it reflected the work we put in last years, particularly our improvement in Math I scores,” Meredith said. “If students see a target they can hit it.”
Regarding math she also said teachers are beginning to become accustomed to Common Core, and “they’re starting to like it.” She said math class doesn’t look much like it used to, and in a good way.
Each student’s overall test scores were graded into five levels, a departure from the four levels reported last year. Level 3 includes those students wh met grade level expectations, while Levels 4 and 5 exceeded them. In previous years, the state scores only reflected whether a percentage of students met expectations. In Wake County, two-thirds of students passed compared to 58 percent in Johnston County.
Last year’s passing scores were lower across the board during the first year of a new tougher standard of tests. This year the adjusted scale brought scores back up, but not nearly to levels of years prior.
Rand Road Elementary outperformed other Garner elementary schools with two-thirds of students passing and about 57 percent of students exceeding expectations. Those scores land just about on the Wake and Johnston County combined median. Vance and Timber Drive just lagged behind.
They were all outpaced by Cleveland Elementary, the top Johnston elementary school at 78 percent passing and 67 percent exceeding. West View Elementary School in Cleveland (67 and 58 percent) also surpassed Garner-area schools.
Creech Road Elementary met academic growth expectations according to the state, but again registered near the bottom of the county, with less than 39 percent of students achieving at least Level 3. East Garner Elementary and Smith Elementary each had just under half of students pass.
While Cleveland Middle excelled, East Garner Middle School was the lone area school that did not meet growth expectations and saw 45 percent pass and 34 percent exceed proficiency expectations. North Garner fared only slightly better (50 percent and 40 percent) while meeting growth projections.