New standards lower city schools test scores; achievement gap persists

tgrubb@newsobserver.comNovember 7, 2013 

— The city schools met or exceeded their testing goals last year in nearly every area but still struggle with closing the racial and economic achievement gap, according to results released Thursday.

The overall proficiency rate was 68.5 percent in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. The results are based on standardized end-of-grade tests in reading and math in third through eighth grade, science tests for fifth- and eighth-graders, and end-of-course tests in three high school subjects.

The city schools continued to outperform the state, which had an overall proficiency rate of 44 percent. The district also outpaced nearby school districts: Orange County, at 50 percent proficiency; Durham, at 34 percent, and Wake, at 55.8 percent.

In 2010, North Carolina was among the first states to adopt the Common Core State Standards for reading and math. The standards also reflect the N.C. Essential Standards curriculum and cannot be compared to previous testing results.

The results released Thursday show the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools District met 96.6 percent of 560 federal goals and 94.6 percent of 947 state goals. The district missed 27 achievement goals; 20 for low-income students.

Among individual schools, Estes Hills Elementary and Culbreth Middle School failed to meet expectations for student growth by three goals. McDougle and Smith middle schools and Chapel Hill and East Chapel Hill high schools exceeded expectations.

There won’t be any consequences for students or schools this year, but the new scores will form a baseline for measuring future gains, officials said. The goal is to cut the number of non-proficient students by half in six years.

CHCCS Superintendent Tom Forcella said the change to Common Core standards will better prepare students for college and careers, but there is more work to do.

Achievement gap

The scores for students in third through eighth grades show black and Latino students far behind their peers in the district, though they did slightly better than black and Latino students statewide.

About 28.7 percent of black students and 35.2 percent of Latino students in the CHCCS tested proficient in reading, versus 74.7 percent of Asian students and 84 percent of white students.

In math, 21 percent of black students and 36.6 percent of Latino students in third through eighth grades tested proficient, versus 80.7 percent of Asian students and 80.5 percent of white students.

“That’s unconscionable,” said Diane Villwock, executive director of testing and program evaluation. “We have a lot of work to do in order to prepare students to do the work on the exams” under the more rigorous Common Core standards.

For example, younger children previously tested on reading now have to write about what they have read. “It’s a huge, huge difference,’ she said. “We’re teaching kids to do problems we haven’t done before.”

While confident the Common Core will better prepare students in the long run, Forcella agreed the numbers underscore the achievement gap. In some of the district’s elementary and high schools the percentage of low-income students doing grade-level work was in the teens.

“We recognize there is one group that stands out in the data, one group whose academic needs are not being met,” Forcella said in a statement. “Our district’s greatest challenge is bringing up the proficiency levels of our economically disadvantaged students.”

School officials have said for some time they expected to see lower scores and a much wider racial achievement gap. State education officials delayed releasing the scores to the N.C. Board Of Education in June to allow time for a more thorough analysis of what they mean.

Staff writer Mark Schultz contributed to this story.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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