RALEIGH — Wake County public schools lagged behind other urban districts this year, when it came to meeting goals set in North Carolina’s ABCs of Public Education accountability program. That’s the assessment of the John Locke Foundation’s top education expert.
“The preliminary data clearly show that test score gains in Wake County are consistently smaller than those in North Carolina’s other large school districts,” said Terry Stoops, JLF Director of Education Studies. “These numbers rebut the claims that Wake County’s unique system of forcibly busing students for socioeconomic diversity generated some kind of special benefit for student performance. If you think test score growth is linked at all to student assignment policy, the latest numbers suggest Wake should look at other large school districts for examples. None of those districts uses forced busing for student assignment.”
The state ABC report set for release Aug. 5 shows that 61 of Wake’s 159 schools met state standards of adequate yearly progress for student performance. That’s 38 percent of Wake schools. Nearly 60 percent of Guilford schools (69 of 116) met the state’s standards. In Mecklenburg, the number was 58 percent (97 of 168), while 54 percent (44 of 81) of Winston-Salem/Forsyth public schools met state goals. Among the largest school systems, only Durham trailed Wake’s percentage, with 25 percent (13 of 52) of its schools meeting state targets.
Of these districts, Wake County has a significantly lower percentage of low-income students as measured by the federal school lunch program, Stoops said.
“While three other large urban districts saw at least half of their schools meet state ABC performance goals, barely more than one-third of Wake’s schools met that benchmark,” he said. “No one should look at those numbers and determine that anything special is happening in Wake County that sets it ahead of other urban districts in improving student performance.”
Stoops takes away another lesson from the new ABC numbers. “During the tight state budget conditions we’ve seen in recent years, public education cheerleaders have complained constantly that cuts in funding would hurt the North Carolina public school classroom,” he said. “These new numbers don’t fit that template. Test scores didn’t go down as the state tightened its budget belt. In fact, test scores went up in many schools.”
“I suspect state education officials will trumpet these scores when they release them officially next week,” Stoops added. “But I wonder if they will feel inclined to mention that test scores climbed despite the fact that North Carolina legislators slowed the river of taxpayer dollars flowing toward public education.”
Wake lagged behind other urban districts this year in more than just the percentage of its schools meeting state student performance goals, Stoops said. In composite math and reading scores for grades 3 through 8, Wake’s growth trailed growth in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Guilford, and Winston-Salem/Forsyth schools.
The same was true for composite high school end-of-course test results. “The end-of-course results were particularly interesting,” Stoops said. “Wake’s composite score grew by 4.8 points, while Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s score grew by 8.3 points, Winston-Salem/Forsyth’s grew by 9.2 points, and Guilford’s score grew by 10.3 points. Wake also registered the smallest gain among the four large systems on six of eight individual end-of-course tests.”
Those numbers do not make a great case for Wake County’s efforts to improve student performance, Stoops said. “Wake County’s test scores are improving, but no one could look at these numbers and say that Wake is exceeding other large North Carolina school systems in speeding improvement. People who argue that Wake’s recently discarded forced busing policy produced benefits for students might want to rethink their arguments after studying these numbers.”