Garner middle schools struggle; Cleveland’s shines

kjahner@newsobserver.comFebruary 4, 2014 

— Kathy Williams, principal at East Garner Middle School, wasn’t thrilled with the new state report card test scores – not that it put her in exclusive company after harder tests halved proficiency scores at many schools.

“They are much lower than we would have liked them to be. Lower in specific areas thanwe would have liked them to be,” Williams said.

The newly released breakdowns show Garner’s two middle schools struggled more than most in the state. Math in particular proved a sore spot; Cleveland Middle School, however, stood out in the other direction.

Cleveland posted scores far ahead of state and Johnston County averages and comparable to Wake County averages, especially with a 60.4 percent proficiency in reading scores besting Wake’s average by over 6 percent. And of those not proficient, only 7.5 percent are level 1, less than half the district and about a third of the state average. Students scoring at levels 3 and 4 are considered proficient.

Math scores aren't quite as high but still comfortably beat district and state averages at all levels.

Garner middle schools struggled, mostly falling below both district and state averages across the board. East Garner Middle School’s 25.7 percent proficiency in math stands out.

“We are really focusing on our math instruction because that was shown to be a major area of need,” Williams said. “In the past our math scores have always been better than our reading scores.”

Williams noted that the school had advanced roughly 30 percent to about 80 percent proficient by the old standards, and not shying from the new tougher standards Williams said “I’m sure we will again.”

“We welcome more rigorous standards, and our teachers are looking forward to the challenge,” Williams said. “We don't want to be defined. You need to look at East Garner over time.”

North Garner did have a high end-of-course subject-test score in Math 1, at 68.1 percent proficiency, way ahead of state and district figures at 68.1 percent.

But fewer students take that subject test. North Garner’s overall math scores clocked in at 31.8 percent.

As with Garner’s high school, its middle schools also face much higher rates of economically disadvantaged students taking tests than their Cleveland-area counterpart. A heavy majority of test takers at both Garner schools qualify as economically disadvantaged according to the report card. Less than a quarter of Cleveland Middle School test-takers qualify.

Both Cleveland and East Garner middle schools have less-experienced-than-average teachers and below-average rates of advanced degrees. They also had low rates of long-term suspension and above-average access to technology.

Williams noted the fortune of the magnet grant money the school received in recent years, and that the school had focused much of that toward technology in the classroom.

North Garner matched the state but lagged the district in technology. It has a substantially more experienced teacher base. Despite few long-term suspensions it issued well over the average in short-term ones. Unlike Cleveland and East Garner, North Garner had below average teacher turnover.

The report cards show the initial results from the state’s new READY accountability testing model. The exams were based on the harder Common Core standards, resulting in much lower passing rates than in previous years.

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

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