Student performance on state tests improved this year, with higher scores on elementary school math and science exams driving advances.
North Carolina’s four-year high school graduation rate inched higher, to 85.8 percent from 85.6 percent.
State education leaders praised the results.
“This is indeed good news,” said State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey.
Results of standardized tests the board released Thursday show uneven progress in reading, however. The state has put an emphasis on elementary reading over the last few years. A 2012 law requires that most students read proficiently by the end of third grade.
The percentages of third- and fourth-graders reading well enough to succeed at the next grade dropped slightly from last year, according to the test results, while the percentages of students passing math increased in all elementary and middle grades.
The state Department of Public Instruction is going to look closely for explanations, said state Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson.
Possibilities for the decline include not enough spaces in prekindergarten for students who need to prepare for school, teacher turnover in the early grades, and parents not enrolling children in summer reading camps that are designed to help students catch up, Atkinson said.
At Sanderson High School in Raleigh, the graduation rate rose 7.7 percentage points to 89.1 percent, the largest jump in Wake County. Sanderson’s staff credited the gains to personalized outreach efforts that begin in the freshman year to help students stay on track to graduate in four years.
Sanderson Principal Greg Decker said it’s ultimately about showing students that the school cares about them and won’t quit on them.
“Sometimes some children through their behavior are hard to love,” Decker said. “You’ve just got to love them.”
Public school students take standardized reading and math tests at the end of third through eighth grades, and science tests in fifth and eighth grades. High school students take state tests in biology, Math I and English II.
These tests, along with calculations of student growth, are combined to create school performance grades of A-F. On the whole, the grades are improving. The state has fewer “F” and “D” traditional and charter schools than it did last year, and more “C,” “B” and “A-plus” schools.
“We’re headed in the right direction,” Atkinson said.
The state has 92 fewer low-performing schools — schools that show a pattern of scoring D’s or F’s and do not exceed expectations for growth.
Halifax County, a school district with chronic low student performance and where the state intervened under a court order, is no longer a low-performing district.
Test scores make up 80 percent of grades for elementary and middle schools. Student growth 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.
As in past years, the results show a connection between school poverty and letter grades. Most of the schools that received F’s were high-poverty schools where 80 percent or more of the students were economically disadvantaged, according to a News & Observer analysis. No school where fewer than 40 percent of the students were economically disadvantaged received an F.
The Wake County school system saw gains on state exams and the graduation rate.
The percentage of Wake County students passing state exams rose to 67.9 percent during the 2015-16 school year. It was at 66.8 percent the previous school year. The Wake school system remains well above the statewide proficiency rate of 58.3 percent.
An area Wake County school leaders highlighted Thursday is how the district’s graduation rate rose a full percentage point to 87.1 percent. The state’s largest school system has the goal of having at least 95 percent of students graduating by 2020.
Test results in Durham schools show 44.9 percent of students were proficient, up from 44 percent last year. The four-year graduation rate improved from 80 percent to 82.1 percent.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools reported 76.6 percent of students tested proficient in grade-level work in 2015-16, compared with 77 percent in 2014-15. The four-year graduation rate was largely unchanged at 90.1 percent.
The passing rate in the Orange County Schools was lower, at 62.2 percent, but the four-year graduation rate rose to 89.3 percent. It was 88 percent in 2014-15.
Staff writers Virginia Bridges and Tammy Grubb contributed.