Wake Ed

November 11, 2013

Wake County schools stressing growth and not proficiency results

Wake County school leaders are downplaying the district’s relatively low passing rate on state exams by focusing on how most schools met growth targets.

Wake County school leaders and the Wake Education Partnership are talking a lot about growth when it comes to the latest round of state test results because talking about the passing rates isn’t a pretty subject.

The school district’s overall proficiency rate on the 2012-13 state end-of-grade and end-of-course exams was 55.8 percent. What you’ve heard a lot more about from both groups is that 140 of the 165 schools made growth targets on the exams.

“The new standards demand a lot from our teachers and our students. And our students have shown tremendous growth in the past year,” Superintendent Jim Merrill said in a district press release. “I commend our teachers and students for their work, and parents for their support. I am proud of what we see today.”

The headline in the Wake Education Partnership’s latest issue of “In Context” reads “Higher standards mask steady growth.”

State and local education officials say you can’t compare the proficiency rates for the exams based on the new Common Core standards with exams given in prior years.

But those same officials say you can use those prior exams in conjunction with the new exams to help determine growth. Plugging the data into SAS Institute’s proprietary EVAAS program paints a much more upbeat picture on student performance in Wake and the rest of the state.

“Despite sharply lower passing rates on new state exams, Wake County students made clear academic progress last year, according to data released by state educators today,” the WEP writes. “While the decline in test scores masked the underlying progress of students, the growth offered encouragement for what lies ahead in the new era of student accountability introduced today.”

The WEP writes that “growth measures are important because they show students are making progress even if they aren’t meeting the higher proficiency goals expected this year.”

“Under the new Common Core exams, both the difficulty of questions and the required number of correct answers increased – hence the drop in passing rates,” the WEP also writes. “At the same time, many students made obvious progress even if they failed to clear the higher bar.”

But whether parents and the public will be satisfied with focusing on the growth results as opposed to the proficiency results remains to be seen.

The proficiency figures for Wake show that 63 of the 165 schools have performance composites of under 50 percent.

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The WakeEd blog is devoted to discussing and answering questions about the major issues facing the Wake County school system. WakeEd is maintained by The News & Observer's Wake schools reporter, T. Keung Hui.

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