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Little More Than Half Of NC Students Proficient In Test Results

East Chapel Hill High School students
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools

 More public school students passed their standardized exams last year than in the previous year, in part because of changes to the grading scale that made it easier for students to be considered proficient.

The overall passing rate, across all subjects, was about 56 percent. Results are based on end-of-grade tests in reading, science and math, and end-of-course tests in three high school subjects.

School officials changed the grading scale after scores dramatically dipped in 2012-13. They say results have been lower because of new tests based on the math and English Common Core standards.

“When you raise the standards, when you have more complex material for students to understand it takes time to get to a place where you can see larger increases,” says June Atkinson, the state’s superintendent.

The state Board of Education changed the 4-level scoring scale to a 5-level scale earlier this year. That means a number of students who would have been previously labeled as failing to meet grade-level requirements are now considered to be proficient.

Before the change, results on state exams were divided into four achievement levels, with Level 1 and 2 considered not proficient and Levels 3 and 4 considered passing. Now, Level 3 is equivalent of a high Level 2 on last year’s exams.

Atkinson says the students will improve over time, but also notes that the exams are not fully representative of student growth.

“Our end of grade tests and end of course tests are snapshots - they aren't the movie of all learning of students,” she says.

The test scores affect school ratings and they're especially critical for third-graders, who risk being held back if they don't pass their end-of-grade reading tests.

Along with the scores, state officials released graduation numbers on Thursday. About 84 percent of students graduated from high school last year - the highest recorded rate in the state's history.

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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