State report cards reveal local schools’ weaks spots

kjahner@newsobserver.comJanuary 31, 2014 

— The state’s new tougher standardized tests splashed some cold water on schools across the state, and with Tuesday’s release of school report cards came additional detail revealing weak spots in local schools.

Garner Magnet High School, which had produced rapidly-rising test scores that pushed into the 80s in terms of proficiency under the old system, remains mostly behind Wake County but ahead of state averages. But math scores revealed a major problem area, with just 9.4 percent of students testing at grade level after Algebra I. Even with scores statewide dipping, district and state (36.3) totals dwarfed Garner’s.

Garner High principal Drew Cook said math scores were too low, but said the score didn’t accurately reflect on the school. He said that figure discounted students that had already passed Math I before arriving at Garner.

“It’s unfortunate. There’s no way to know you’re not looking at the same numbers,” principal Drew Cook said, adding that county and state averages didn’t reflect the loss of the already “banked” scores. “All that being said, it is still a precipitous drop, just like across the state. Math has been a focal point of conversation with this new batch of testing.”

Likely for similar reasons, Cleveland High School didn’t do much better with math, ith just 16.7 percent of its students testing at proficiency. Johnston County on the whole was well below the state average at 21.8 percent.

On the whole, Garner performed comparably to Cleveland. Garner has a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students, which make up about half of Garner’s test-takers and about a third of Cleveland’s.

Outside of math, the schools were both more or less comparable to state averages in most demographics and subgroups. In terms of all end-of-course tests given, Garner students passed at a 43.9 percent clip, while Cleveland was at 42.3. Economically disadvantaged students at Garner, at 31.3 percent, were the only demographic to outperform county averages.

Garner’s black students came closest to joining that group, but at 30 percent still exhibited the persistent gap between minorities and whites (63.8).

Cook said he wishes student growth, for which Garner met its targets, were reflected in the new report cards. Cook has repeatedly characterized year-to-year student growth as the best indicator of the work a school is doing in a year, and not just for those on the cusp of proficiency.

Regardless, he knows proficiency scores have to come up, and Cook believes improvement will be made.

“It's just a new bar, a reminder that the rules of the whole testing game have changed,” Cook said.

Elsewhere in the report, Garner’s teachers surpassed district and county averages in experience, board certification and advanced degrees, and experienced just half the average teacher turnover. Cleveland also had slightly below average turnover and slightly above average percent of teachers with graduate degrees. It has a slightly less experienced teacher base and average rate of board certified teachers.

Garner had a significantly higher long-term suspension rate than average, while Cleveland barely had any. Cleveland’s new facility partially explained its high tech resources score and a library with an average book age far newer than most.

Schools were supposed to begin distributing condensed versions of the report cards to parents across the state Tuesday. Distribution was hampered by forecasts of inclement weather that resulted in some school districts closing Tuesday.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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