Students in Durham improved their performance on state exams last year, continuing an upward trend that had school officials celebrating this past week.
The improvement represents the district’s highest year-to-year bump in grade level proficiency in the last five years, Durham Public Schools announced in a press release.
The district’s accountability report said 48.3 percent of Durham students passed their exams, up from 46.4 percent in 2016-17, according to annual data from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
There were still 15 Durham schools rated as low-performing — but the number was down from 18 last year and 21 the previous year.
School officials said teachers and school staff deserved credit for the improvement. “The constant last year was our excellent teachers and staff,” Durham Public Schools Superintendent Pascal Mubenga, who started November 2017, said in a statement. “What changed was that we had the opportunity to fill a number of vacancies among principals and central administrators, enabling us to set a tone at the top.”
“These results reflect years of hard work by our teachers and staff,” added Mike Lee, chair of the Durham Public Schools Board of Education. “It’s clear that our new administration’s focus on data, equity, and student achievement is paying off.”
Schools are assessed on a 100-point scale, with 80 percent of the grade coming from the percentage of students who pass exams and the other 20 percent factoring in year-to-year growth.
Schools in Durham that received an A included City of Medicine Academy, Durham School of the Arts, J.D. Clement Early College, Magnum Elementary and Middle College High.
Durham schools that were handed the low-performing grades included C.C. Spaulding Elementary, Eastway Elementary, Eno Valley Elementary, Fayetteville St. Elementary, Glenn Elementary, Lakewood Elementary, Brogden Middle, Lowe’s Grove Middle, Lucas Middle and Shepard Middle.
The district’s progress is not entirely reflective of trends across the state, however. Overall, fewer North Carolina public school students passed the exams this year.
But in Durham, five of 52 schools received the state’s top letter grade for performance.
Durham schools also saw a small jump in the number of schools meeting or exceeding growth expectations, meaning the school’s students made a year’s worth of academic progress during the year.
Chip Sudderth, chief communications officer for Durham Public Schools, said the Durham schools that received an F this year could be reasonably expected to earn a higher grade in the upcoming year.
“They are so close to leaving that F territory that with hard work and focus we think every one of them could,” he said.
Sudderth also noted that Durham saw a decline in performance on high school math and English, a trend he said was mirrored across the state. “That is an area of concern and we will be looking at that,” he said.
North Carolina has been rating school performance on an A through F scale since the 2013-14 academic year, when the Republican-led state legislature implemented the letter-grading system.
Supporters of the system argue that letter grades provide a simple way for parents, educators and community members to assess how various schools are performing. But critics say that the A through F scale tends to stigmatize schools in areas of high poverty.
More specific data detailing school performance by subgroups such as race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status is set to be released in October.