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Wake County school leaders are pointing to the academic gains being made across the district, particularly for low-income students and at schools with high percentages of poor children.
Newly released figures show that 93 percent of Wakes schools met or exceeded their academic growth targets on state exams this past school year, and 71 percent of schools increased their passing rate. At the same time, the passing rate for low-income students increased at every grade level.
Everybodys coming up, said Wake schools Superintendent Tony Tata. The economically disadvantaged children are at a higher rate for this year. That means were taking a step in the right direction for closing the achievement gap.
Test, graduation results
Go to abcs.ncpublicschools.org/abcs/ to view 2011-12 school-by-school test and graduation results.
Wakes overall passing rate on state exams increased to 82.1 percent in both elementary and middle schools. Thats a gain of 1.9 percentage points and 0.9 percentage points, respectively. The passing rate increased to 85.8 percent in high schools, up 2.5 percentage points.
Tata also highlighted gains at several schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students. Tatas critics have complained that the new controlled-choice student assignment plan being used for the 2012-13 school year will increase the number of high-poverty schools.
Many of Wakes Title I schools, which receive federal dollars because they have a high percentage of low-income students, shifted their funding to target the entire school and not just the poor students.
Paula Trantham, the principal at Millbrook Elementary in North Raleigh, said shifting the funding gave her more flexibility. She said the school also did more frequent testing to see how well students were doing and did a better job of scheduling to reduce the amount of classroom time that students missed.
Millbrooks passing rate rose 9.8 percentage points to 74 percent. The school also exceeded growth expectations. Trantham said the results show that students can succeed at high-poverty schools.
We know we have great teachers and great students here, Trantham said. But when people looked at the test results they may not have realized that. This validates things.
At Forestville Road Elementary School in Knightdale, also a Title I school, the passing rate increased 9.1 percentage points to 83.5 percent. Forestville, where 58 percent of the students are low-income, has a higher passing rate than several more affluent schools.
School officials said they also shifted to schools an additional $1.2 million in Title I money that was being held in Central Office.
Tata said the additional Title I funding helped the new Walnut Creek Elementary School in Southeast Raleigh hire additional teachers to reduce class sizes and to add 45 extra minutes to the school day. New technology such as high-tech white boards were provided to classrooms, and students were given iPods.
Questions had floated around Walnut Creek because it opened in August with more than two-thirds of the students receiving federally subsidized lunches. While the scores are below the county average, Walnut Creeks 60.3 percent passing rate was 4.7 percentage points higher than what its students had done at their prior schools.
Extra resources, through $9.5 million in a federal grant, were also provided under the Renaissance Schools program to target what had been among the districts four lowest performing elementary schools. Many teachers and principals at the four schools were reassigned to other schools.
In addition to new technology, the federal money allowed for signing bonuses, merit pay and extra staff development.
All four Renaissance schools Barwell Road Elementary in Southeast Raleigh, Brentwood Elementary in North Raleigh, Creech Road Elementary in Garner and Wilburn Elementary in North Raleigh saw gains in their passing rates.
Barwell Roads passing rate rose 9.7 percentage points to 74.1 percent. The school also exceeded academic growth targets.
If you put the focus on the children, the test scores will come, said Sandy Barefoot, Barwells principal.
While Wake saw gains in many areas, it didnt happen in the high school graduation rate.
Wakes graduation rate dropped slightly from 80.9 percent to 80.8 percent.
The states graduation rate rose to 80.2 percent, up from 77.9 percent the prior year. In the past six years, the states graduation rate has risen 11.9 percentage points while Wakes has dropped 1.8 percentage points.
Tata said efforts that have resulted in reducing how often Wake students are suspended from school will bring the graduation rate back up.
I think were heading in the right direction, Tata said. Im not concerned.