The annual ABCs of Public Education report, based on results of end-of-grade and end-of-course tests taken in grades 3 through 12, show 88 percent of nearly 2,500 schools that were scored met academic growth goals for the 2009-10 year, compared with 81 percent in 2008-09.
Test scores got a boost in part because results now include scores for students who retook end-of-course exams for high school classes because they failed the first time around. A similar increase occurred when retest results were included for lower-grade tests for the first time a year ago.
But education leaders praised the results during a lingering sour economy. The ABCs program, which began in 1996, also historically has determined whether teachers at schools that are making progress on test scores would get bonuses. But that cash hasn’t been offered the last two years by the Legislature during the extended budget crisis.
The “report shows that our school leaders and teachers are staying focused on teaching and learning at high levels, even as they face many challenges brought on by the state’s economic situation,” Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said in a news release. “It is a credit to the skills and professionalism of North Carolina’s teachers that school performance improved.”
The report said 931 schools, or 37 percent, received the highest honors, meaning at least 80 percent of students passed the tests and the schools reached growth expectations in the scores. A year ago, 628 schools reached those three highest achievement levels, or more than 25 percent.
Only 16 schools were designated as “low performing,” compared with 75 a year ago. Those schools, where more than half of the students failed the tests and didn’t meet growth expectations, can get special assistance from the state.
Some Durham schools have taken heat for their low-performing scores.
"Are we where we want to be long-term, I would say to you no," Durham Superintendent Dr. Eric Beacoats said. "But I do think there is lots of progress that's been made. And I think we're moving in the right direction. We will be getting to dissect the information, looking at the students we really need to focus on."
"The results show we are moving in the right direction," Beacoats added. "We are making progress in Durham Public Schools. Under my leadership, I expect that we are going to make these same strides, but at a much faster rate."
The exams also serve as the basis for determining whether schools meet federal requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Fifty-seven percent of the schools met all of the federal testing standards this year compared to 71 percent a year ago, the report said.
The requirements are an all-or-nothing. Missing one of the benchmarks for a subgroup of students -- which 15 percent of all schools did -- means the school didn’t make “adequate yearly progress.” Schools that receive certain federal funds to help disadvantaged children and don’t meet benchmarks two years in a row face sanctions.
The state education department said 200 schools received the top label of “Honor School of Distinction” because more than 90 percent of students passed tests and the schools reached all federal benchmarks. There were 121 such schools a year ago.
About 30 schools -- some special education and vocational schools -- didn’t receive an ABC label.
Wake County Public Schools
147 of 159 met expected growth
86 of 159 had high growth/p>
Durham Public Schools
46 of 53 met expected growth
17 of 53 had high growth/p>
Cumberland County Schools
81 of 87 met expected growth
42 of 87 had high growth