There’s More to School Performance Than Grades for WCPSS

Most of the news of the past few weeks about school performance focused on the NC School Report Card grades, but a great story about Wake County Public School System’s school performance might have been easily overlooked.

Data was presented to the Wake County School Board in a work session last week that measured the school system’s progress towards each of the goal areas of the Vision 2020 Strategic Plan. The plan, which was adopted in January 2015, sets ambitious goals for the school system with the most notable being the goal of a 95% four-year high school graduation rate.

On that goal, the school system reached 87% district-wide, and topped 90% at a number of schools. Three traditional high schools have reached the 95% rate: East Wake, Holly Springs and Panther Creek. Three application schools also exceeded 95%, with Vernon Malone College and Career Academy graduating 98% of its students and Wake STEM Early College and Wake Early College of Health and Sciences both graduating 100% of its students in four years.

Those numbers are impressive when the statewide four-year graduation rate for 2016 was 86.8%, and neighboring southern states range from  62% to 92%.

Although graduation rates get a lot of attention, the school system is measuring its progress on 19 other goals. These goals are broken into four groups: College Ready, Cross-cutting Skills, Career Ready, Citizenship Ready.

The groups have a varying number of goal categories within them which are measured using testing data, student and teacher surveys, nationally normed worker readiness assessments, public data, and information on student college enrollment and participation.

Each of the four groups have areas of improvement. Based on the 2014-15 data posted on the school system’s Vision 2020 Results page, only 29% of students taking the ACT college entrance exam were considered college-ready, and only 49% of high school students had GPA of 3.0 or higher. Academic proficiency also tops out at 70% in grade three, and declines steadily to 68% in fifth grade and 64% in eighth grade.

Despite that, there is plenty of good news in the numbers. During the 2014-15 school year, WCPSS high school students earned a combined 10,334 industry credentials, certificates, and specific skills recognitions, which contributes to being career-ready.

Finally, based on student and teacher surveys, there’s a high number of students who demonstrate the necessary “soft skills” like critical thinking, problem solving, perseverance, use of technology, and collaboration. But there’s an interesting difference between teachers and students when it comes to perseverance. Teachers say 71% of their students demonstrate perseverance while only 50% of students believe they do. This could be due likely to the two groups having a different understanding of perseverance.

Taken together, these data show the school system has room to improve in all areas, but this information gives a broader understanding of school performance. These results allow parents, principals, teachers, and school system leaders to draw more informed conclusions about how each school is performing, and then use the right interventions to help improve outcomes. This is the first year such data has been reported, and more will come.

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