Wake Ed

WRAL overstates gains at Wake County high-poverty schools

Sunday Update: WRAL revised the story again on Friday to scale back the earlier reporting about the progress made in Wake County’s high-poverty schools. WRAL dropped the word “marked” from its opening paragraph describing the improvement.

WRAL also dropped the new paragraph it inserted Thursday about how state changes left the impression that schools were improving at a faster rate than they actually are. In its place Friday. WRAL reported new totals for gains in proficiency for individual schools that reflected much lower but more realistic gains over last three years.

Thursday Update: WRAL revised its story Thursday evening – after this blog post went up. The article now includes this new paragraph:

“It’s also important to note that during the last three years, the state modified how it determines proficiency. That’s left the impression that some schools are improving at a faster rate than they actually are.”

WRAL-TV on Wednesday sharply overstated the gains in test scores made by high-poverty schools in Wake County.

In a “WRAL Investigates” report, the television station said that “test scores in schools with more than 70 percent of students from low-income families have shown marked improvement in recent years.” But the report doesn’t take into account how the state made changes to the testing system last year that have sharply increased the passing rate.

The result is that several Wake schools that WRAL reported as having double-digit gains in passing rates over the past three years actually saw much smaller increases.

In 2012-13, the first year of the new Common Core-based exams, passing rates statewide were at 44.7 percent. State education officials said students who passed were “college and career ready.”

Exams that school year were based on a four-tier scale, with students scoring at the third and fourth tiers considered to be at or above their grade level.

Last year, the State Board of Education added a middle level to create a five-tier scale of proficiency. Now, students who score in the third, fourth and fifth tiers are considered passing. But only students on the fourth and fifth tiers are considered “college and career ready.”

Deputy State Superintendent Rebecca Garland testified in a court hearing in January that the change was made because state schools leaders wanted more children to be classified as passing their classes. The change was occurring as the General Assembly began requiring the use of the tests for new A through F performance grades for each school and for Read To Achieve to determine which third-grade students might be held back.

“We felt we had to do this,” Garland said.

The result is that the students who are considered as passing/proficient rose statewide this year to 56.6 percent. But those students whose passing rate is considered “college and career ready” has only gone up slightly to 46.9 percent.

When WRAL reported the gains Wednesday, the TV station compared the original higher passing standards with the new relaxed requirements.

For instance, WRAL reported that Brentwood Elementary School “has seen its proficiency scores in reading and math jump by 23.5 percentage points over the last three years.” But if you look at the students who are considered “college and career ready,” the gain is a more modest 11 percentage points.

Jumps reported by WRAL for other Wake schools were also much smaller. For instance:

▪ Smith Elementary School’s gain is 10.1 percentage points instead of 20.2 percentage points.

▪ Creech Road Elementary School’s increase is 5 percentage points, not 19.1 points.

▪ Wakelon Elementary School’s jump is 6.3 percentage points, not 18.9 points.

▪ Fox Road Elementary School went up 6.8 percentage points, not 17.3 points.

▪ East Garner Elementary School increased 0.7 percentage points instead of 11.6 points.

▪ Lincoln Heights Elementary School is up 2.3 percentage points, not 11 points.

WRAL also, arguably, overstated the passing rates for Wake high-poverty schools that it said had a majority of students scoring as proficient on state exams.

WRAL said that Wakelon Elementary is at 54.8 percent proficiency. If the “college and career ready” standard of proficiency was still the minimum, the passing rate would be 41.9 percent.

Brentwood Elementary would be 39.1 percent instead of the 51.6 percent proficiency rate now used by the state.

Creech Road Elementary would be at 36.1 percent instead of the reported proficiency rate of 50.2 percent.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui