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‘Report cards’ show mixed results

Each year the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) releases school performance grades. These “report cards” for the 2017-18 school year were released on September 5. Schools in the Roanoke-Chowan region saw grades ranging from A to F, with some districts showing improvement while others faltered.

NCDPI calculates the grades based 80 percent on the school’s achievement score and 20 percent on students’ academic growth (measured in three categories: exceeded expectations, met expectations, and not met expectations).

According to a press release from NCDPI, due to changes this year in accountability measurements, “school grades, growth results and graduation rates for the 2017-18 school year are not comparable to past performance during the five years the state has assessed schools using A-F letter grades and 13 years reporting the cohort graduation rate.”

Of the 28 public schools (including two charter schools) in the four-county Roanoke-Chowan area, C was the most common grade received. D was the second most common. Two schools managed to attain an A score this year, while three others received an F. Twelve schools were labeled as “low performing” which is defined by NCDPI as schools which receive D or F grades and do not exceed academic growth expectations.

Northampton County Schools qualified as a “low performing” district again by NCDPI standards due to having a majority (6 out of 7, or 85 percent) of their schools labeled as low performing.

Hertford County managed to miss the threshold for being considered a low performing district this year. They had a total of three low performing schools out of seven for the 2017-18 school year. This is an improvement from the previous year.

School achievement grades this year varied county to county.

Among the seven schools in the Bertie County district, only one received a different grade from the previous year. Bertie Early College High improved from a B grade to an A grade. The following is a brief summary of this year’s performance grades in the district:

Aulander Elementary: 62 (C grade) – met expectations

Colerain Elementary: 59 (C grade) – met expectations

West Bertie Elementary: 65 (C grade) – exceeded expectations

Windsor Elementary: 65 (C grade) – exceeded expectations

Bertie Middle: 50 (D grade) – met expectations

Bertie Early College High: 87 (A grade) – met expectations

Bertie High: 46 (D grade) – did not meet expectations

The four-year cohort graduation rate for Bertie High dropped to 79.4 percent while the Early College’s rate remained steady at about 95 percent.

A press release from Bertie County Schools noted none of their schools received an F grade for the third consecutive academic cycle. All schools either met or exceeded academic growth expectations, with Bertie High School as the only exception.

They also reported Grade Level Proficiency at Bertie Early College improved this year up to 81.8 percent. The GLP at Colerain Elementary and Bertie Middle decreased slightly, while it increased at Aulander Elementary, West Bertie Elementary, Windsor Elementary, and Bertie High School.

“Our students, staff and leaders experienced several transitions and changes in leadership in 2017-18 alone,” said Bertie County Schools Superintendent Dr. Catherine Edmonds, who came to Bertie in February 2018. “And they are resilient.”

“We are striving to make every minute—for every child—count, on every day; and we are looking forward to accomplishing much more this year, as we work together to provide the best educational experience for the children of Bertie County,” she concluded.

In Gates County, all five schools received the same letter grade as they did last year. The following is a brief summary of this year’s performance grades in the district:

Buckland Elementary: 67 (C grade) – met expectations

Gatesville Elementary: 68 (C grade) – met expectations

TS Cooper Elementary: 58 (C grade) – met expectations

Central Middle: 60 (C grade) – met expectations

Gates County High: 76 (B grade) – exceeded expectations

The high school had a four-year cohort graduation rate of 93 percent this year.

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

Out of 19 school districts in the region, Williams noted the Gates County district ranked fifth or above in several subject areas including Biology, English II, Math 5 and 7, Science 5 and 8, and Reading 5. When compared with other districts in the Roanoke-Chowan area as well as the Roanoke Rapids and Weldon districts in Halifax County, Williams reported Gates County ranked in the top three in every subject (College/Career Ready and Grade Level Proficient).

“I have observed our educators tweak their lessons in response to how students are doing. Students’ learning needs are more important than lesson plans,” explained Williams, adding that the district’s teachers use “Blooms Taxonomy” to teach students to pose their own questions when learning.

“We strive to improve each and every day to provide a first-rate education to our students. Data analysis is not about numbers. It is all about improving instruction,” he concluded.

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

Ahoskie Elementary: 40 (D grade) – did not meet expectations

Bearfield Primary: 63 (C grade) – met expectations

Riverview Elementary: 49 (D grade) – did not meet expectations

Hertford County Middle: 39 (F grade) – did not meet expectations

CS Brown High: 88 (A grade) – no growth expectations data reported by NCDPI

Hertford County Early College: 76 (B grade) – met expectations

Hertford County High: 59 (C grade) – met expectations

Both CS Brown and the Early College had a four-year cohort graduation rate above 95 percent. Hertford County High’s rate was 81.6 percent.

“We know that the school performance grade is a tool that indicates how well we do on end-of-grade testing, end-of-course testing. It’s basically a snapshot. There’s a lot of hard work that goes in all school year,” said Hertford County Superintendent Dr. William Wright.

He expressed excitement about some of the positive results the system received this year, such as eliminating the “low performing district” label and seeing grade improvements at a few schools. Bearfield Primary, he noted, improved by 15 percentage points while Riverview Elementary improved by eight points.

Hertford County Middle received the lowest grade in the district this year, but he pointed out it was only one percentage point away from a D grade. The superintendent called it a “baseline year” for the school since they added sixth grade, and he vowed to continue pushing forward.

The district’s goal for next year is to improve all schools by at least six percentage points and reach for exceeded growth expectations.

“Of course, we’re not satisfied with where we are. We still have a lot of work to do and try to work to improve. But overall, we are pleased that we have some progress that our students and staff have done that we can build upon,” Dr. Wright concluded.

Four of Northampton County’s seven schools changed letter grades this year. Central Elementary, Gaston Middle, and Northampton Early College all dropped by a letter grade. Willis Hare improved by one letter grade when they previously scored an F last year. The following is a brief summary of this year’s performance grades in the district:

Central Elementary: 49 (D grade) – met expectations

Gaston Elementary: 39 (F grade) – met expectations

Willis Hare Elementary: 51 (D grade) – met expectations

Conway Middle: 40 (D grade) – met expectations

Gaston Middle: 38 (F grade) – did not meet expectations

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

Northampton Early College: 64 (C grade) – met expectations

Northampton County High School reported a four-year cohort graduation rate of 63.4 percent, well below this year’s state average of 86.3 percent. There was no reported graduation rate for Northampton Early College because the two-year old school had no graduating class data from previous years to compare.

Northampton Superintendent Dr. Monica Smith-Woofter acknowledged the areas in which the district needed to focus on.

“We continue to work towards closing the achievement gaps district wide, and we have identified both school and district improvement priorities to meet specified goals,” she said.

The superintendent reported a district-wide improvement of grade level proficiency by nine points since the 2013-14 school year, and said they intend to strive for even greater improvement.

“We must increase the number of students who are able to demonstrate grade level proficiency,” she continued. “We need parents and staff to work collaboratively to challenge our students to improve grade level proficiency. We know that our students are on grade level; however they struggle to demonstrate their knowledge on state assessments.”

Five out of seven schools met growth expectations this year, she reported, and the two schools who received an F grade (Gaston Elementary and Gaston Middle) only missed a D grade by one and two points.

Targets for the 2018-19 school year include no schools with an F grade, every school meeting or exceeding growth, and every school increasing their grade by at least 10 percentage points.

“Meeting the stated targeted goals would result in Northampton County Schools coming off the low performing school district list. All schools have established goals and are implementing specific strategies to address deficiencies,” Dr. Smith-Woofter concluded.

NCDPI also provided report cards for charter schools in the state. The two charter schools in the Roanoke-Chowan region were KIPP Gaston College Preparatory in Northampton County and Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy in Bertie County. As reported by the News-Herald previously, HCLA’s charter was revoked after the 2017-18 school year and will now be operating under a different organization’s leadership as Three Rivers Academy in the 2018-19 school year.

The following is a brief summary of this year’s performance grades for the charter schools:

HCLA: 40 (D grade) – met expectations

KIPP Gaston: 66 (C grade) – met expectations.

KIPP reported a four-year cohort graduation rate of 83.1 percent.

In statewide statistics, a total of 2,537 North Carolina public schools were graded for the 2017-18 school year, according to a press release from NCDPI. More than a third of those schools earned A and B grades, and on the other end of the spectrum, approximately 22 percent of schools received a D or F grade.

Across North Carolina, only 476 schools were identified as low performing this year, down from 505 in the previous year. Only seven districts—including Northampton—were labeled low performing in comparison to 11 districts in 2016-17.

“School grades continue to correlate closely with the poverty levels of schools,” the press release continued. “Among schools where more than 81 percent of students come from low-income families, 69 percent of the schools received a D or F. Conversely, in schools with poverty rates less than 20 percent, only 1.7 percent of schools received a D or F. Schools with lower levels of poverty are more likely to earn As and Bs.”

The state’s four-year cohort rate, tracking students who entered 9th grade in 2014, showed that 86.3 percent of the cohort graduated last year.

In the Roanoke-Chowan area, only Bertie Early College, Gates County High, and CS Brown High reported their four-year graduation rate above the state average.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson said in the NCDPI press release, “We know that students learn best when instruction is tailored to their needs, so we’re adjusting our supports for educators at the state level to help make that happen. Teachers are working hard and our state must transform our system to complement their efforts.”