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A bit of shine comes off Durham public school test data

UPDATED: Graduation rate, test scores rise for Durham Public Schools

Author’s note: This post was updated late on Wednesday, July 20. 

Test scores by Durham Public Schools students rose slightly in the 2010-11 academic year. 

“We believe that these are some significant accomplishments in Durham Public Schools,” said Eric Becoats, the district superintendent, who recently completed his first year in office. 

The results, which will be considered preliminary until next month, were announced Wednesday morning at Spring Valley Elementary School by school system officials. 

Perhaps the best news the Durham school system had involved the graduation rate, which rose from 69.8 percent to 73.9 percent. 

While the graduation rate hike is certainly laudable, the overall increases in student passing rates — performance composites, in educational lingo — were incremental at best. 

In grades 3 through 8, the percentage of students passing the state-mandated end-of-grade or EOG tests rose from 63.7 percent in 2009-10 to 64.1 percent in 2010-11. In high school, the percentage of students passing state-mandated end-of-course or EOC tests rose from 67.6 percent to 67.8 percent. 

Each increase was less than half a percentage point. 

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The district broke down the new test results in two other significant ways: by test category and by student category. These are worth a quick look. 

In grades 3-8, reading EOGs rose from 55 percent to 55.8 percent, math jumped from 68.6 percent to 70.4 percent and science fell by a tenth of a point, to 59.6 percent. 

At the high school level, the highest and lowest scores this year were the 72.9 percent passing mark in American history and the 54.2 percent passing mark in physical science. The passing percentages for algebra I and II, biology, civics and economics, and English were all clustered in 66.9 to 69.1 range. The biggest gain was in algebra I (3.2 percent); the biggest loss was in biology (3.5 percent). 

The student categories feature numeric patterns that, sadly, are all too familiar, no matter if the tests are end-of-grade math, end-of-grade reading or end-of-course subjects. 

Whites and Asians record the top marks, followed by multiracial students. Black and Hispanic students tend trail the leaders by considerable margins. Youngsters who are poor, speakers with limited English proficiency or disabled tend to lag the middle of the pack badly. In all three of the types of tests listed above, disabled students had the lowest numbers. 

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The grade 3-8 reading scores are worth highlighting. The composite proficiency mark was 55.8 percent, as noted above. More than four-fifths of white and Asian students passed the tests, and about two-thirds of multiracial students did. Between 44 and 49 percent of (in descending order) black, poor and Hispanic students were deemed proficient. Limited-English-proficiency (or LEP) and disabled students scored 34.1 and 27.6 percent, respectively. 

Numbers are higher in the other test categories, but the pattern holds. For math EOGs and all EOCs, the middle of the pack — 50- or 60-something passing scores — are held by black, Hispanic and poor (and sometimes LEP) students. 

There were small fluctuations in the academic achievement gap between white students and black and Hispanic students. Suffice to say that most of the gaps exceed 25 percentage points, and that none those gaps closed by more than 1 point. 

There was a notable increase in one of those gaps. The disparity between white and black reading scores in elementary and middle schools rose from 32.1 percent in 2009-10 to 34.6 percent in 2010-11. 

Durham’s superintendent didn’t try to play up any positives when discussing this data. 

“Our work continues,” Becoats said. “While we have made some success, and some I think significant accomplishments this past year, there’s still much much more work that needs to be done. 

“That’s what we are charged to do. That’s what we will do.” 

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Note that there are many more testing results to come. The federal government’s No Child Left Behind yardstick, known as adequate yearly progress, will come to light Thursday at 10 a.m. Educators for years have criticized the “one fail, all fail” nature of AYP, to quote a phrase Becoats used Wednesday. 

It will be interesting to see whether or not the incremental progress unveiled Wednesday translates into better or worse performance under No Child Left Behind than last year, when just 14 schools (28 percent of the total) met the standard. 

Also, the test scores should be finalized by the state Board of Education next month. That action should also crystallize the labels that the state has used for years in its ABCs program. 

Bull City Rising will have a follow-up post Thursday (likely in the mid- or late afternoon) to share the AYP results as well as to probe some information from Wednesday’s announcement. 


Nancy Cox

Thank you Mr. Milliken for your coverage of this important matter.


Matt -

Thanks for the comprehensive report.

Couple of questions:

1) What is the estimated margin of error for the various test scores? My guess is that nearly all of the comparisons with the previous year's results are within the statistical margin of error, meaning that the two are effectively the same.

2) All of the measures compare this year's cohort with last year's -- which is a completely different group of individuals. Is there any reporting of how individual students are progressing year-over-year?



You last question was always one of my big complaint when I was teaching for DPS. There is no effort made to compare the same students year to year.

Mike Kelley

In Chapel Hill-Carrboro, we have looked at the same students from year to year to see how much they have grown but staff had to do the calculations. The state does not provide this type of growth data though there is a state-defined method to calculate growth and an expected level of growth.

See here for the report: http://tinyurl.com/3om4bn2

Kudos to Dr. Diane Villwock and her staff who generated the report.

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