It's looking like student achievement will be added as one of the new guiding principles to Wake County's magnet school program.
As noted in today's article, there was a good deal of discussion at Wednesday's Wake County school board meeting about a review of student achievement data at magnet schools. The focus was how at the elementary and middle school level, the magnet schools had wider gaps than the non-magnet schools.
If adopted into the guiding principles, it could impact which schools get magnetized. It could also impact whether some existing magnet schools change their program or are demagnetized.
As the data was presented Wednesday, Roger Regan, senior director of data and accountability, cautioned board members to remember that magnet schools on average have higher percentages of minority and free and reduced lunch (FRL) students.
Click here for the handouts from the meeting, including the school-by-school results.
The three-year average difference in the percentage of non-FRL and FRL students meeting growth targets at elementary magnet schools was 10.2 percentage points. It was 7.3 percentage points at non-magnets.
The three-year average difference in the percentage of non-FRL and FRL students proficient was 34.7 percentage points at elementary magnet schools. It was 29.1 percentage points at non-magnets.
The three-year average difference in the percentage of non-FRL and FRL students meeting growth targets at magnet middle schools was 8.7 percentage points. It was 6.5 percentage points at non-magnets.
The three-year average difference in the percentage of non-FRL and FRL students proficient was 31.9 percentage points at magnet middle schools. It was 28.5 percentage points at non-magnets.
The situation was mixed at the high schools.
The three-year average difference in the percentage of non-FRL and FRL students meeting growth targets at magnet high schools was 6.8 percentage points. It was 8.6 percentage points at non-magnets.
The three-year average difference in the percentage of non-FRL and FRL students proficient was 24.8 percentage points at magnet high schools. It was 24.1 percentage points at non-magnets.
After the data was presented, those at the board table were given the chance to comment on the data and ask questions. To keep things moving along, a timer was used to limit how long each person could talk before going to the next speaker.
During her time, school board member Christine Kushner said the achievement gap is a countywide issue that needs to be addressed and isn't just a problem at magnet schools.
School board attorney Ann Majestic said there's been a belief that magnet schools will produce better outcomes for minority and low-income students. But she said the data doesn't support that so she'd like to know what's going on that it's not happening.
School board member Jim Martin said that he wants staff to also include the mean and standard deviation when presenting achievement data. He said just including average can hide things.
Martin said he's very concerned about the way performance is only being defined by one number. He said he'd like to see the number of Level 1, 2, 3 and 4 students at each school.
Martin also questioned the way growth is determined. He contended that the measurement is skewed against high-performing students who would be harder to show growth with.
School board member Deborah Prickett said the data shows the gaps "pretty explicitly."
“Some of the magnets might not be working as well as we’d like to bring about student growth," Prickett said.
School board vice chairman Keith Sutton said that student achievement needs to be part of the magnet guiding principles going forward.
"There is a perception or belief that in a magnet school you’d see an increase in achievement, particularly among minority and economically disadvantaged students," Sutton said. "If it’s not one of the principles, it doesn’t really allow us to have the conversation of how to do it and how to get at it."
Sutton added that "we know" that at magnet schools like Enloe High School and Ligon Middle School you have a "school within a school."
"If we’re going to get serious about closing the gaps and getting rid of a 'school within a school,' we have to have achievement as a principle," Sutton said.
Superintendent Tony Tata, who has previously called the achievement gaps at magnet schools "pretty stark," said student achievement should be a goal of the magnet program.
School board member John Tedesco said that the overall gap between magnet schools and non-magnet schools is not that much different.
But Tedesco also said he's concerned about how wide the gap is among individual elementary schools. As an example, he said the gap between FRL and non-FRL is 60 percentage points at Hunter Elementary but only 30 percentage points at Combs Elementary.
Tedesco said they may need to look at the thematic approaches at individual magnet schools to see if that's impacting the gaps. He said there may be a difference between those magnets that target the whole population as opposed to the Gifted and Talented theme where not all students are taking the same thing.
Martin responded by saying they need to have a breakdown for each school of how many students are getting free lunch and how many are getting a reduced-price lunch. He said that Hunter has more homeless students than Combs.
Martin brought up his concern that there's so much focus on helping the students at the lower end that the higher-end ones aren't being as well served. He pointed to the implementation of the new math placement standards and how Wake is telling all elementary school students they can't do single-subject acceleration into a middle school math course.
"We can not ignore the high-end achievers, and that’s what the magnet program affords," Martin said.
Kushner said they shouldn't throw under the bus the schools that have worked hard the last three to five years to erase the gaps. She again brought up how achievement gaps are a countywide problem. She said people should consider what conditions would be like at schools if they didn't have a magnet program.
Prickett brought up the high cost of transporting magnet students and said that needs to be considered in the midst of the current budgetary concerns.
When his turn came again, Tedesco responded to both Martin and Kushner.
“I’m not attempting to throw schools under the bus," Tedesco said. "But I think its important to determine which magnet school programs are achieving what we’re desiring.”
Tedesco then brought up the example of Creech Road Elementary School, which he noted has a higher percentage of low-income students than Hunter. Tedesco said Creech also has a large homeless population but has a narrower achievement gap than Hunter.
"I’m not knocking Hunter," Tedesco said. "I want to know what’s going on there so we can find a solution.”
Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore explained that student achievement was initially considered in the past as one of the magnet guiding principles but was pulled.
“Student achievement was pulled out because we couldn’t come to an agreement on what it was and how to measure it," Moore said.
Moore said they can do it now if that's what the board wants.
The formal decision on what to include in the guiding principles is expected to be made at the next school board work session on the magnet review, scheduled for June 13.