Walnut Creek Sees Big Test Score Gains, But Well Below County Average

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Much anxiety has surrounded the destiny of Wake County’s newest high-poverty school, Walnut Creek Elementary. But it seems innovative programs and a booster shot of an additional $1 million lead to significant gains in student performance.

Preliminary test results show 62.9 percent of children passed the End of Grade tests for both reading and math. That’s a 7 percent improvement from last year, but it’s almost 20 percent below this year’s district average of 82.1 percent for elementary school students.

Walnut Creek only opened this year, but school system administrators were able to track the improvement by laboriously pulling each student’s test grades from the year before at his or her previous school.

The results are based on children who were enrolled at Walnut Creek in December of this year, so they are not exact. In fact, the number of economically disadvantaged children, who historically do not perform well on tests, rose by more than 4 percent between December and May.

“We worked extremely hard,” said principal Corey Moore. “I wasn’t necessarily shocked because I monitor the progress of students and faculty. I knew we were moving in the right direction.”

“Looking at the demographics and the extra resources, I’m pleased to see the results,” said school board member Keith Sutton, who represents Walnut Creek’s district.

The school started the year with 67 percent of children receiving free-and-reduced lunch. That number has increased significantly during the school year and administrators predict that next year the school will have 82 percent F&R students.

Walnut Creek Teachers 2011-12

Total Teachers: 72

By Degree at Walnut Creek:
Bachelors: 40                             55.56%
Masters: 32                                44.44%
Nationally Board Certified: 5       6.94%   

Wake Average:
Masters: 32%
National Board Certified: 8 per elementary school

Walnut Creek Teacher Experience:
4 years or less: 41     56.94%
5-9 years: 17             23.61%
10+ years: 14    19.44%

Wake Average Elementary Experience:
0-3 years: 18%
4-10 years: 36%
10+ years: 46%

Walnut Creek Teacher Ethnicity:
Asian: 1                           1.39%
Black: 38                         52.78%
Caucasian: 32                 44.44%
Hispanic or Latino: 1        1.39%

Walnut Creek Student Ethnicity:
Asian:                       .5%
Black:                       67.7%
White:                       3.2%
Hispanic:                  26.2%
Multi-racial:              2.3%
Native American:      .2%

Sutton said he believes the board will seek to change those demographics over time, but he doesn’t believe it will happen right away.

“It’s definitely not the ideal environment for maximum learning,” Sutton said.

School board member John Tedesco said he’s also very pleased with the gains at Walnut Creek, but he is suspicious of trying to change the demographics there.

“I don’t think it’s the most effective solution to tell those kids they have to leave that school,” Tedesco said. “We’ve had that in the past and it didn’t produce nearly the amount of gains that it is now.”

The school system’s literature acknowledges that “high poverty schools… have difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers” and that such schools “require more resources over time.” The Record reported recently that the number of such schools was increasing under the controlled-choice plan.

Teacher Demographics
The Record requested teacher demographic information on Walnut Creek back in December of 2011. This request was filled simultaneously, last Thursday, with our request for the preliminary test scores.

The demographic information shows that Walnut Creek has a significantly higher portion of young teachers than most elementary schools in Wake County.

Veteran teachers often have a higher success rate teaching economically disadvantaged students than new teachers, but the phenomenon didn’t seem to affect Walnut Creek.

“With the necessary amount of support, young teachers can be just as effective as veteran teachers,” Moore said. “I have some beginning teachers … that got phenomenal growth out of students. It’s not years teaching, but commitment to seeing students achieve.”

Another noticeable statistic in Walnut Creek’s makeup involves Hispanic and Latino students and teachers.

Hispanic students make up 26 percent of Walnut Creek’s student body, but the school is home to just one Hispanic teacher.

Also at Walnut Creek, white teachers make up 44 percent of the faculty demographic, while white children make up just 3 percent student population.

Official test results will be released Thursday.

Follow Will Huntsberry on twitter @willhuntsberry or #wakeschoolboard

One thought on “Walnut Creek Sees Big Test Score Gains, But Well Below County Average

  1. These are really impressive and commendable results. In fact, I think they are better than reported if growth in nontested grades is considered. It will help proficiency rates in the upper grades if students enter those grades already prepared.

    These results came at a high cost, monetarily and in terms of the toll they took on the teachers. Anecdotally, we know (from public meetings and private conversations) that the teachers at this school were/are under tremendous strain due to the extraordinary time and effort they put in to get the results for what is essentially the same money as other teachers get. Turnover was high; supplies and staffing were lacking.

    To see whether we can expect to replicate these results year after year, and whether we want to, we need to monitor turnover data for WC and compare it to other schools, and we also need to look at performance in nontested subjects and see if any sacrifices were made there. If turnover is high or nontested subjects were shorted, we need to think about what, if anything, should be done to keep these facts from undermining the school’s success.