Consultant: Wake Schools Haven’t Reduced Achievement Gap

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During the past few years, the Wake County Public School System’s poor and non-Asian minority students have improved their test scores but continue to perform below the level of their more affluent and white counterparts.

That’s one finding presented Tuesday to the Wake County Board of Education by consultant Lindsay Page from the Center for Education Policy and Research of Harvard University.

The Harvard study was part of package of free audits provided to Superintendent Tony Tata upon his graduation from the Broad Center, an organization that prepares retired professionals for careers as education leaders.

The study focused on grade 3 through 8 reading and math scores.

Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches (F&R students) scored on average 351 points on the grade 5 mathematics end-of-grade (EOG) test in the 2006-07 school year. Non-F&R students scored on average 360 points.

This nine-point difference remained two years later, even though both groups increased their scores by one point.

F&R students also exhibited slower academic growth — rising test scores — across years than white and affluent students.

Students who had similar scores in third-grade testing diverged as they continued their schooling, with F&R students growing more slowly.

Page tried to put the difference in terms of instructional time.

“It’s like saying you send non-F&R students to school for 10 months a year, but F&R students only eight months a year,” Page told the board.

Most schools with large numbers of F&R students exhibit less growth than schools with fewer F&R students. But a few schools — including Brentwood Elementary and Garner Elementary — have many F&R students but still show high growth.

Wake County students as a whole perform more strongly than students in the entire state.

“What’s going on here and what are these schools doing that’s so wonderful?” asked Page.

The Harvard study also looked at Algebra I students.

Students who take Algebra I for the first time in middle school are more likely to pass the Algebra I end-of-course (EOC) exam the first time they take it.

“If there’s one thing I might want to recommend — and I’m not recommending anything — it’s to make sure to think about the achievement gap with many different measures,” Page said. “It’s possible that one measure on its own does not give a full picture of student achievement.”

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