Aug 9, 2012
Wake students, teachers push test scores higher
Test scores were higher in almost every category for Wake County’s students last year with notable gains posted by the district’s low-income students, according to results released last week by the state Department of Public Instruction.
The increases do not erase the fact that large gaps still exist among groups of students and some schools clearly face bigger – and more expensive – challenges than others. But academic growth was obvious at virtually every grade level and subject this year.
Overall, about 88 percent of the district’s students in elementary and middle school are now passing the statewide math exams and 80 percent are reading at grade level. About 76 percent of elementary and middle school students passed both exams.
School district leaders were especially pleased with the gains posted by low-income students. At the elementary school level, the percentage of low-income students at grade level increased 4 percentage points compared to 1.9 percentage points for the district as a whole. Similar ratios were seen at the middle and high schools.
The increase in scores among low-income students also helps illustrate some of the challenges schools face. Despite the gains, low-income students still posted passing rates that were about 25 percentage points lower than children from higher-income families.
And the schools that showed some of the best gains were also the schools where the district has spent the most effort and money as part of its Renaissance Schools program. Students posted impressive gains in three of those four schools.
One of the predictable reactions to the scores is praise for the students and questions for administrators about how the district will continue to find additional money. About 70 percents of the students in the four Renaissance schools come from low-income families. Extra money has so far come from one-time federal funding.
A comparison grouped by student demographics shows that schools similar to those in the Renaissance program also showed gains, but they were not as impressive. At the other end of the economic spectrum, schools that scored well last year tended to do well again, but most did not show significant academic gains.
Construction program lacks price tag – for now
The long and sometimes tedious process of deciding where to build new schools and which buildings most need repair began this week. One component was conspicuous by its absence – a price tag.
Wake school leaders and the county commissioners are discussing a bond referendum in May that would ask voters for permission to finance the next round of school construction.
But the eventual cost of the project is likely to overshadow all other details, no matter how important. And that is largely why the size of the bond request won’t be formally decided for at least two months.
“We have a lot of work to do. There are a lot of decisions to make,” said Don Haydon, chief facilities and operations officer. “These are just lists right now.”
District leaders aren’t hiding the fact that the request will be large and the needs even larger.
Based on existing capacity and predicted enrollment growth of about 4,600 students a year, Wake would need about 14 new elementary schools, three middle schools, five high schools, one alternative school and one career and technical center by 2106-2017.
A typical elementary school costs about $20 million to build, a middle school about $40 million and a high school at least $60 million. In addition, there are 12 existing campuses where entire makeovers will be considered and 16 more where a partial overhaul is needed.
More than 100 other schools are part of a separate list because they have roofing, windows, doors, plumbing and other building components that have met or exceeded their expected lifespan.
Many of the details were released for the first time publicly this week in committee handouts.
Everything on these lists will not get done, which is why the school board will focus on priorities over the next few months. Deciding where to build and renovate is determined mostly by expected needs, but the process is part art and part science given the uneven nature of residential growth.
And all of the discussions are held with one eye on the politics of giving parents in every part of the county a reason to support the bond request. That’s especially important because most voters don’t have kids in school – meaning those who do must support the request in large numbers.
But for now, the next step is to continue to refine the lists of schools and projects. That will happen at the school board’s next Facilities Committee meeting September 11.
Want your kid to graduate? Pay attention
It’s a given in kindergarten circles that pre-school children should know their letters and numbers if they hope to ease into success once they start their K-12 career. But if you want to know which of those fresh-faced kids will graduate from college, check out their attention span, according to a recent study out of Oregon State University.
Published online in Early Childhood Research Quarterly, the results came from asking the parents of preschoolers to rate their child’s abilities to pay attention, follow directions and complete tasks. The same children were then assessed at age 7 on their reading and math abilities, and again at age 21.
“Surprisingly, achievement in reading and math did not significantly predict whether or not the students completed college,” according to the Oregon State University press release. “Instead, researchers found that children who were rated higher by their parents on attention span and persistence at age 4 had nearly 50 percent greater odds of getting a bachelor’s degree by age 25.”
In a quote that sounds as though it might come from a corporate recruiter, the lead researcher of the study, Megan McClelland, offered this summary: “Academic ability carries you a long way, but these other skills are also important. Increasingly, we see that the ability to listen, pay attention, and complete important tasks is crucial for success later in life.”
While McClelland’s findings will interest many young parents and preschool teachers, her previous work on how to increase attention span might be more helpful. And how does one do that in a child?
Remember “Simon Says” and “Red Light, Green Light?” It turns out you were helping your kid get ready for college.
… North Carolina is among 32 states in a national survey that is predicting stable economic growth for next year. The survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures comes with a few conditions and caveats, as you might expect. In North Carolina, the three biggest concerns are a sluggish global economy, the costs of persistently high unemployment rates and the growth in K-12 enrollment and higher education classes. Wake County is clearly doing its part to fuel K-12 enrollment as the number of new students is expected to reach about 5,000 children by the time traditional-calendar schools open later this month.
… Jim Goodmon, president and CEO of Capitol Broadcasting Company and head of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, and Retired U.S. Army General Hugh Shelton, a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were tapped recently to kick off a summer orientation for students of the Wake Young Men’s and Wake Young Women’s leadership academies. Both organizations are working with the school district to launch the single-gender academies. The performance of the academies, which are strongly supported by Superintendent Tony Tata, are being watched closely as the district looks for ways to offer students different choices to compete with charter and private school options. The district’s press release can be found here.
Wake Education Partnership is a 501(c)(3) non-profit created in 1983 to support public schools, in part by educating the community on current school issues and serving as a strong advocate for student achievement and world-class academic standards. Most of its financial support comes from individuals and local businesses. Please send comments or questions to Tim Simmons, VP of Communications, at email@example.com or visit our website at www.wakeedpartnership.org.