The latest round of standardized test results show an uptick in performance for Wake County public school students, though passing rates continued to vary widely among schools in Raleigh and Wake Forest.
Students’ scores improved compared with last year across the state, in part because of a new scoring scale that makes the tests easier to pass.
Overall, Wake’s passing rate rose 1.8 percentage points, from 64.8 percent for the 2012-13 school year to 66.6 percent for the 2013-14 school year, according to county school officials.
“The increases that we’ve experienced really indicate that a great deal of hard work has gone into these results and the dedication of our teachers is evident when you see those results,” Cathy Moore, Wake’s deputy superintendent for school performance, said at a press conference Thursday.
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Wake school leaders recalculated the passing rates from last year to match the new scoring system, rather than claiming growth of more than 10 percentage points. Under the system in place last year, Wake’s passing rate was 55.8 percent.
Brad McMillen, Wake’s assistant superintendent for data, research and accountability, said that since all schools would have seen a large bump from the change in standards, they wanted to accurately compare the gain.
School system officials said the steady growth is encouraging because the state instituted tougher standards two years ago.
“As the state continues to raise the bar, we continue to push forward,” McMillen said.
In Raleigh and northern Wake, the 2013-14 passing rates at non-charter elementary schools ranged from 39.5 percent at Walnut Creek to 86.4 percent at Jones Dairy.
Middle school passing rates ranged from 44 percent at East Millbrook to 79 percent at Heritage.
High school passing rates ranged from 44.7 percent at Southeast Raleigh to 89.5 percent at Wake NC State STEM Early College High School.
The results are based on standardized end-of-grade tests in reading and math in third through eighth grades, science tests for fifth- and eighth-graders and end-of-course tests in three high school subjects.
After last year’s disappointing results using the longstanding 4-level scoring scale, the State Board of Education decided to use a new 5-level scale, making the tests easier to pass. Students who score at Level 3 or above are considered proficient, while Level 4 or 5 scores indicate a student is college- and career-ready.
Wake officials highlighted the gains seen at individual schools such as Athens Drive High. The school saw an 11.5 percentage-point increase on the passing rate for students who are career- and college-ready on the state’s Math I end-of-course exam.
James Hedrick, principal of Athens Drive, credited part of the gains to changes such as recommending that teachers develop plans to help students who are in danger of failing classes.
Under an “academic recovery plan,” Hedrick said teachers were encouraged to do things such as offer students tutoring during lunch periods, allow students to retake tests and to allow work to be handed in late with a reasonable penalty.
Wake officials also pointed to an overall improvement of 8 percentage points at Durant Road Elementary School, where 71.7 percent of students were considered proficient and 61.2 percent were considered college- and career-ready.
School officials said the gain at Durant Road Elementary reflects more intervention support, access to detailed data for teachers, literacy coaching and a partnership with the YMCA.
Thursday’s data release also includes information about whether a school met performance growth targets. Those results show whether most students demonstrated a year’s worth of growth in classroom material.
In addition, the state released the most recent graduation rates. For the 2013-14 school year, 82.2 percent of Wake seniors graduated in four years, up from 81 percent the previous year and the highest rate in eight years.
“We’re not where we need to be on that metric, but we are steadily improving,” McMillen said.
Lynn Bonner contributed to this report.