The chairwoman of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education asked this week whether the district is graduating students who are not ready for college.
Information presented at Thursday’s school board meeting showed 89 percent of black students graduated high school in four years. That is an all-time high for the CHCCS district.
The numbers also showed, however, that only a third of all black students in grades 3-8 were on track for college or career ready.
The last state exam that measures proficiency is the English II test in 10th grade. By that time, only 42.5 percent of 10th graders were college or career ready.
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“I see a disconnect between a sub group that is only 40 percent proficient, yet they have an 85 (89) percent graduating rate,” school board Chairwoman Jamezetta Bedford said.
“Is it because, when they take the course over, the test scores don’t count, or do we have a testing problem?” she said. “Are we passing kids easier the second time, or a combination of the both, which is what I suspect.”
Diane Villwock, the district’s testing director, said graduating is a function of credit. If students acquire enough credits, they graduate.
State exams are only 20 percent of students’ final grades.
“So if I walk into an EOC (End of Course exam) with a C-minus, even if I get an F-plus, then I’m probably getting a D for the course and I’m still passing,” Villwock explained.
Villwock also said it’s not clear whether state tests measure proficiency – whether a student is performing on grade level – better than local grades.
“To say we have low (state) test scores, therefore students are graduating (who are not proficient), I don’t know,” she said. “We don’t have assessments all the way through high school to determine that.”
The district needs to work on grading, she said.
“There are some students who do fine in class but don’t test well, and some students who don’t do their homework, but do well on the test,” she said. “There’s a correlation but not a very tight one.”
Terry Stoops, director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, said students graduating and not being able to read on grade-level is a problem nationwide.
“We don’t entirely know why graduation rates are increasing,” Stoops said. “It may be because the economy is bad. It may be because more jobs require high school diplomas and are indicative of having certain skills.”
He said it is true that some students who aren’t doing grade-level work are graduating.
According to an annual study by the North Carolina Community College System, of the 40 students at Chapel Hill High School that went to a community college in 2012-13, just over half, 55 percent, took at least one remedial course in either English, reading, or math.
Of the 33 students at East Chapel Hill who went to community college, 60 percent took a remedial course.
Two-thirds of the students in the state that attend a community college took one or more remedial course. The study does not separate racial or ethnic groups however, so how that correlates with the achievement gap between black and Latino students and their white and Asian classmates is uncertain.
“That’s a pretty disturbing trend that students are graduating high school and having to take remedial courses in colleges in subjects they should have already mastered before they graduated,” Stoops said. “We’re not talking about high-level courses; we’re talking about basic math and basic reading skills.”
He said some end up dropping out.
But Stoops puts the blame on state exams continually changing and districts unable to measure growth accurately on a consistent basis.
“There are certainly high-performing students in the state. But we’re also graduating students ill-prepared for higher education or the work force,” Stoops said. “We can’t rely just on those top performers to boost our economy. We have to rely on all graduates.
“Our economy is going to suffer because there are fewer skilled workers, which will discourage businesses from locating to North Carolina.”
Bedford said she wants the school board and staff to discuss the issue more. Villwock said the district might not have the data but will look for ways to demonstrate students are proficient by the time they graduate.