By Sam Schaefer
East has further distinguished its excellent academic reputation by tying for first place in the state among public schools for its graduation rate. 92.2 percent of students graduate in four years. This is especially remarkable in light of the fact that North Carolina’s average graduation rate is only 50 percent according to an email from Principal Eileen Tully to East’s staff. Despite this resounding success, East’s administration is looking to improve even more and especially wishes to address the problem of an achievement gap between disadvantaged students and those with greater advantages.
Previously, East ranked 77 in the nation for the 2007-2008 school year in U.S. News and World Report’s annual list of the top 100 of America’s Best High Schools. For the 2009-2010 school year, however, East was pulled from this list because of a serious achievement gap between disadvantaged students such as minorities and the rest of the student body. Only schools whose State Test Proficiency Rate among disadvantaged students is at least equal to the average across the state are eligible for U.S. News and World Report’s list. At East, disadvantaged students performed at a proficiency rate on state tests of 50.9 percent, 0.4 percent below the state-wide average of 51.3 percent.
Because of this gap, the administration has adopted and pursued policies intended to remedy the situation. According to Winslow Carter, a Career and Development Coordinator of the College and Career Information Center, policies intended to help all students, but especially high-risk students include the following: Freshman Experience; the peer tutoring program; the adult tutoring program; encouraging teachers to let students come in at lunches; the AVID program (in which nearly 100 percent of students that have completed it have gone on to four-year colleges); and the policy that teachers must contact parents of failing students.
The goal of closing the achievement gap has also prompted the administration to add a new policy. “This year, the administration has added a layer of different strategies to work with students that are not being successful. Every grade is going to have a team of teachers, counselors and other professionals to try and help those students in addition to what we’ve always done before,” Carter said.
Another problem that may be contributing to the achievement gap is the degree of separation in between high and low achieving students in their classes. Many non-disadvantaged students take mostly AP and honors classes, while disadvantaged students frequently do not.
“I think the school is trying to make an attempt to get more minorities and students from lower socioeconomic levels in these classes because we tend to learn from each other and to aspire to be better when we are with people that do as well and better than we do,” Carter said.
Carter also believes self-esteem may be an issue: “It creates a culture where it affects a student’s self-esteem if they’re not taking four or five AP classes because they may feel like ‘I’m not as important as someone who does that.’”