A record number of Wake County high school seniors are graduating, but fewer students in the district are passing state exams.
New figures released Thursday show that Wake’s four-year graduation rate is at 88.5 percent, up from 87.1 percent. Wake is moving closer to its goal of having 95 percent of seniors graduating by 2020.
But Wake saw the percentage of students passing state exams last school year drop from 67.9 percent to 67.2 percent. Fewer Wake schools showed growth on state exams, and more schools got lower marks on the state’s letter grade system.
Statewide, the graduation rate rose to 86.5 percent and the passing rate went up to 59.2 percent.
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Wake school leaders put the focus Thursday on the gains in the graduation rate, which were at a low point of 78.2 percent in 2010. The graduation rate has increased every year since 2012.
“We are obviously very excited by the graduation piece because that’s at the heart of what we do,” said Brad McMillen, Wake’s assistant superintendent for data, research and accountability.
Now 21 of 30 Wake high school have a graduation rate of at least 90 percent.
Three early colleges had a 100 percent graduation rate: Wake STEM Early College, Wake Early College of Health and Sciences and Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy. These schools help students graduate with a diploma and as much as two years worth of college credit.
Among the regular high schools, Knightdale High had the largest one-year gain of 6.6 percentage points to raise its graduation rate to 93.6 percent.
School leaders gathered at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh on Thursday to promote how the school’s graduation rate has risen from 82 percent in 2012 to 94 percent this year.
Graduation rates increased among all groups in Wake with the largest gains being 6 percentage points for American-Indian students, 3.7 points for multi-racial students, 3.6 points for economically disadvantaged students and 3.4 points for students with disabilities.
Not all of the news was good for North Carolina’s largest school district on Thursday.
Wake saw a drop in passing rates in state reading, math and science tests in most grade levels in elementary and middle schools.
The decline in performance helped result in only 63 percent of Wake’s schools meeting or exceeding growth expectations on state tests, compared to 68 percent last year.
McMillen said the fluctuation in performance in scores is similar to what was seen in other large districts this year. He said the results didn’t show any major cause for alarm.
The results also had an impact on Wake’s school performance grades of A-F. Test scores make up 80 percent of grades for elementary and middle schools. Student growth on tests makes up 20 percent of their grades.
High schools use standardized test scores, the percentage of students who pass Math III and other factors to determine performance grades.
The number of Wake schools with a D or F grade from the state jumped from 15 schools to 27 schools. The results also show the continued tie between the letter grades and poverty level: All 27 Wake schools with a D or F have enrollments in which the majority of students are economically disadvantaged.
Bugg Elementary School in Raleigh, where 71 percent of its students were low income last year, recorded an F grade for the second year in a row. Bugg is now among a group of lower-performing Wake schools which got state permission to operate more like charter schools to try to improve student performance.
At the other end of the spectrum, eight Wake schools got an A grade and 10 schools got an A-plus. Of those 18 schools, the Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy had the highest percentage of low-income students at 37 percent.
A total of 71 Wake schools got a B grade, and 57 got a C.
Wake school officials have annually called on state lawmakers to change the letter grade system. McMillen said a school’s grade could have shifted due to a small change in passing rates.
“It’s an overly simplistic system,” he said.