‘Grading’ Success

Published 11:16 am Monday, September 18, 2017

Just as students receive report cards after all their hard work, schools across the state are graded on performance by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI). The grades for the 2016-17 school year were released on Sept 7.

NCDPI uses a 15-point A through F grading system, which calculates scores based 80 percent on the school’s achievement score and 20 percent on students’ academic growth (assigned in three categories: not met expectations, met expectations, exceeded expectations). According to the NCDPI news release, “elementary and middle schools’ performance grades are based on test scores alone, while high school grades are based on test results, graduation rates, and indicators of students’ readiness for college or a career.”

Public schools in the Roanoke-Chowan area received a wide variety of grades for the 2016-17 report cards. Of the 28 public schools total, C was the most common grade. No schools received an A this year. Both Herford and Northampton school districts technically qualified as “low performing” by NCDPI standards due to having a majority (4 out of 7, or 51.7 percent) of their schools labeled “low performing.”

Among the eight schools in the Bertie County district, only two had changed letter grades from the previous year. West Bertie Elementary improved by one letter grade, and Bertie Early College High dropped down a letter grade. The following is a brief summary of this year’s performance grades in the district:

Aulander Elementary: 60 (C grade) – met expectations.

Colerain Elementary: 66 (C grade) – exceeded expectations.

West Bertie Elementary: 58 (C grade) – exceeded expectations.

Windsor Elementary: 63 (C grade) – exceeded expectations.

Bertie Middle: 54 (D grade) – exceeded expectations.

Bertie Early College High: 78 (B grade) – met expectations.

Bertie High: 41 (D grade) – did not meet expectations.

Bertie STEM High: 70 (B grade) – did not meet expectations.

Among the three high schools, Early College High and STEM High both had a graduation rate above 95 percent. Bertie High’s rate was 82.2 percent, an increase from 79.8 percent from the past year.

“The schools in Bertie County are making steady progress in critical areas,” said Bertie Superintendent Dr. Steven Hill. “Our elementary schools have seen steady growth for the past four years.”

For academic growth, Colerain Elementary ranked fifth among all schools and second among elementary schools in the entire Northeast Region.

“Our students, staff, and leaders have been pushing students to achieve at their highest potential,” said Dr. Hill. “We have made great strides, and there is always room to grow and improve. We are proud of where we are, and we look forward to how much more we can accomplish as we work together to provide the best educational experience for the children of Bertie County.”

The only local school in the state’s separate Charter School district was Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy located in Bertie County. They received a score of 33 (F grade) and academic growth expectations were not met.

Grades for the five schools in the Gates County District all remained the same as last year. The following is a brief summary of this year’s performance grades in the district:

Buckland Elementary: 69 (C grade) – exceeded expectations.

Gatesville Elementary: 67 (C grade) – met expectations.

TS Cooper Elementary: 63 (C grade) – met expectations.

Central Middle: 57 (C grade) – did not meet expectations.

Gates County High: 73 (B grade) – exceeded expectations.

The high school had a graduation rate of 89.3 percent.

“Our educators provide clear learning targets and students understand what it takes to get better and own their learning,” said Gates County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Barry Williams. “From my evaluative eyes, educators focus on ultimate learning outcomes more than compliance with required assignments.”

According to Williams, Gates County exceeded the state’s average of proficiency for College/Career Ready (CCR) and Grade Level Proficient (GLP) in a variety of subjects including English II, Math 4, Reading 4 and 8, and Science 5 and 8. Regionally, the school district also ranked highly in several of the same subjects.

“Our professional educators create a culture of high expectations coupled with good relationships,” Williams continued. “These are not friendships but partnerships (you and me, in this together) focused on growth and academic achievement.”

“As with any accredited organization,” he concluded, “we strive to improve each and every day to provide a first-rate education to our students.”

Of Hertford County’s seven schools in the district, three received different letter grades this year compared to last. CS Brown High and Hertford County Middle both improved a letter grade, while Bearfield Primary went down a letter grade. The following is a brief summary of this year’s performance grades in the district:

Ahoskie Elementary: 41 (D grade) – did not meet expectations.

Bearfield Primary: 48 (D grade) – met expectations.

Riverview Elementary: 42 (D grade) – did not meet expectations.

Hertford County Middle: 46 (D grade) – did not meet expectations.

CS Brown STEM: 73 (B grade) – met expectations.

Hertford County Early College: 82 (B grade) – exceeded expectations.

Hertford County High: 59 (C grade) – exceeded expectations.

Both the Early College and CS Brown High had a graduation rate above 95 percent, while Hertford County High’s graduation rate was at 78 percent.

“While we are not satisfied with where we are,” said Dr. William Wright, Superintendent of Hertford County Schools, “we are certainly headed in the right direction.”

Wright pointed out that all the schools in the district had a grade of D or better, showing improvement in schools that had previously been graded F.

In regard to the “low performing district” label, Wright responded, “while we are not pleased with this designation, we know that it is not an accurate reflection of the hard work that is underway that is targeted to improve student achievement.”

“We have totally refocused our instructional platform to implement authentic data analysis and integration from the classroom to the boardroom,” he continued. “We are doing this through a renewed focus on Professional Learning Communities, which gives our teachers opportunities to effectively assess student data with a goal of using those assessments to improve instruction.”

Wright was optimistic about the district’s potential to keep improving, citing plans to continue to evolve in order to increase student success.

Four of Northampton County’s seven schools scored different letter grades compared to the previous year. Three schools—Central Elementary, Conway Middle, and Gaston Middle—improved by one letter grade, while Willis Hare Elementary dropped down one grade. The following is a brief summary of this year’s performance grades in the district:

Central Elementary: 59 (C grade) – exceeded expectations.

Gaston Elementary: 37 (F grade) – met expectations.

Willis Hare Elementary: 36 (F grade) – did not meet expectations.

Conway Middle: 45 (D grade) – exceeded expectations.

Gaston Middle: 41 (D grade) – met expectations.

Northampton County High: 47 (D grade) – did not meet expectations.

Northampton Early College: 76 (B grade) – exceeded expectations.

Northampton County High School’s graduation rate was 77 percent. There was no reported graduation rate for Northampton Early College since they had no graduating class during their first year in operation.

Dr. Monica Smith-Woofter, Northampton County Schools Superintendent, explained that the letter grades only provide a snapshot of their schools.

“Until you drill down in the specific data, the accountability data, you don’t see all of the positives,” she said. “For example, in the last five years our district has increased our overall grade level proficiency.”

She also added though a school was listed as having not met growth expectations, they only narrowly missed reaching that goal by less than a point. She expects that the school district will be off the low performing list soon.

“We need our public to re-engage and commit to the investment of fiscal and human resources that are needed to ensure equity for all students,” said Smith-Woofter while also thanking the public for its support.

“Because of our positive cultures that we are establishing, we’re seeing the impact we want to achieve slowly but surely,” she concluded. “We’re moving in the right direction.”

In an effort to improve student outcomes, the NC General Assembly last year implemented an initiative called the “Innovative School District,” which will consist of two low performing schools. Ahoskie Elementary, Riverview Elementary, Gaston Middle, and Willis Hare Elementary are listed among the 48 eligible schools to be potentially selected for the new district. The State Board of Education will choose from the list of eligible schools by early October to be implemented in the 2018-19 school year.

Dr. Smith-Woofter said that they all had been in communication with Eric Hall, the superintendent of the experimental district, to get a better understanding of what will take place should one of Northampton’s schools be selected.

“We are aware that one rural school and one urban school will be selected this year, and in the event it is us, we will open our doors for questions and conversation with our community, parents, and students in particular, so that we can make informed decisions,” Smith-Woofter said in response.

Dr. Wright explained the pro-active efforts Hertford County was doing to hopefully remove its two schools from the list of consideration by the end of the year.

“Both of these schools (Ahoskie Elementary and Riverview Elementary) have new administrative teams, and additional Instructional Coach support (implemented during 2016-17 at the school level) that we believe will be beneficial over time,” Wright said, also citing the removal of sixth grade from those schools this year to better focus on delivering elementary school curriculums. 

In statewide statistics overall, a total of 2,478 schools in North Carolina were given performance grades this year. C was by far the most common grade, with almost 42 percent of the schools receiving it. About 28 percent of schools received B grades, while almost 19 percent received D grades. At the top and bottom ends of the spectrum, approximately 7 percent of schools received an A grade, and only 4 percent were given an F.

Schools with 50 percent or more of their student population reporting poverty tended to score a grade of C or lower.

According to the NCDPI release, “school grades continue to correlate strongly with the poverty levels of schools. Among all schools in 2016-17 that received a D or F, 92.9 percent had enrollments with at least 50 percent of students from low-income families.”

North Carolina’s total of low performing schools increased slightly from the previous year’s numbers. 505 schools in the state were identified as low performing, nine of which were in the Roanoke-Chowan area. 

But for the twelfth year in a row, the overall graduation rate in North Carolina had continued to increase, reaching 86.5 percent.

“It’s great news that the top-line trends are in the right direction. We can all be proud, for instance, that most schools meet or exceed growth,” said Mark Johnson, state superintendent of public schools. “But deeper into the data, the results show stubborn concerns that call out for innovative approaches. It is with innovation and personalized learning that we can transform incremental progress into generalized success.”