Wake Ed

Wake County sees gains in school passing and graduation rates

Carter Popson piloted his decked out Toyota truck into the parking on the first day of school at Sanderson High School on Aug. 24, 2015 in Raleigh, N.C. Popson and other members of the Class of 2016 took part in the annual Senior Caravan of cars entering the school parking lot beneath an archway of ballons. Sanderson’s graduation rate rose 7.7 percentage points to 89.1 percent in the 2015-16 school year.
Carter Popson piloted his decked out Toyota truck into the parking on the first day of school at Sanderson High School on Aug. 24, 2015 in Raleigh, N.C. Popson and other members of the Class of 2016 took part in the annual Senior Caravan of cars entering the school parking lot beneath an archway of ballons. Sanderson’s graduation rate rose 7.7 percentage points to 89.1 percent in the 2015-16 school year. rwillett@newsobserver.com

More Wake County students are passing state exams and graduating from high school, according to new statewide results released Thursday morning.

The percentage of Wake County students passing state exams in math, reading and science 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 are highlighting Thursday is how the district’s graduation rate rose a full percentage point to 87.1 percent. The state’s graduation rate is 85.8 percent.

“Our graduation rate continues moving in the right direction, thanks to the hard work and perseverance of our teachers, staff, students and parents,” Wake Superintendent Jim Merrill said in a written statement. “As educators, we know the work is never finished.

“So we have recommitted ourselves to building on this progress as we continue to close in on our goal that, by 2020, we will annually graduate at least 95 percent of our students, ready for higher education or a career."

Wake school officials said graduation rates increased for most student groups, with the highest gains seen among Asian students (up 2.7 points), students with disabilities (up 2.4 points) and African-American students (up 2.3 points).

Half of the Wake school system’s 26 high schools have a graduation rate higher than 90 percent, and 18 high schools saw their graduation rates rise this past school year.

School leaders are highlighting the efforts of two Raleigh high schools, Sanderson and Enloe, which had the highest jumps in graduation rate in the district. Sanderson’s graduation rate rose 7.7 percentage points to 89.1 percent. Enloe’s graduation rate rose 7.4 percentage points to 89 percent.

VIDEO: Sanderson High School Principal Greg Decker and staff announce their senior graduation rate for this year at 89.1 percent, a 7.7 percent increase over last year. Sanderson staff have been improving their school plan, working with students o

Staff at Sanderson High pointed to increased outreach efforts to provide more personalized learning experiences for students starting in their freshmen year to help them stay on track to graduate on time. This includes identifying students who have failed or are at risk of failing and offering them different options, such as online courses, to help them keep up.

“Graduation rates start for the ninth grade on the very first day of school,” said Sanderson Principal Greg Decker. “You’ve got to be systemic.

“If you only look at seniors, you’re just going to be in a panic as an administrator because of the damage that has been done for what, 13 years.”

Ultimately, Decker said Sanderson’s staff has shown the students that they care 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.”

Statewide, public schools saw gains in the proficiency rate and the graduation rate this past school year.

Go to http://bit.ly/2ccYt5w to view the News & Observer database for school-by-school results for all of North Carolina’s public schools.

Wake also saw gains in the number of schools meeting academic growth targets on state exams. Out of 167 schools, 68 percent met or exceeded growth expectations. It’s up from 61 percent the previous year.

Statewide, 74 percent of schools met or exceeded academic growth targets in the 2015-16 school year.

Wake also saw improvement on the school performance letter grades, which are 80 percent based on passing rates on state exams and 20 percent based on growth on those tests.

Ten Wake schools received an A+ grade, eight received an A, 66 got a B, 68 got a C, 14 received a D and Bugg Elementary School in Raleigh received the lone F grade.

Wake had 13 schools designated as low performing by the state, down from 20 the prior year. Schools are identified as low performing if they have a D or F grade and did not exceed growth targets on state exams.

The performance grades were mandated by state legislators who said that it would make it easier for parents to see how well their children’s schools are doing. But the grades have drawn complaints from many educators who say the grades don’t give enough credit for growth rates on exams.

As in past years, the results statewide and in Wake show a connection between school poverty and letter grades. Most of the North Carolina schools that received Fs 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.

Of the 18 Wake schools with an A+ or A grade, 15 had populations where less than 20 percent of students were economically disadvantaged. All 15 Wake schools with D or F grades had a majority of their enrollment coming from economically disadvantaged student populations.

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