School rank discussed

Published 5:36 pm Friday, October 15, 2021

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JACKSON – Northampton County Schools’ academic rank compared to other districts across the state was a prominent topic of discussion at the county’s regular Board of Education meeting here on Oct. 11.

Last month, the R-C News-Herald reported that Northampton County Schools announced an improvement in rank from previous years. School assessment data released from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) showed that the district had moved up from 115 to 112.

There are 115 traditional public school districts in North Carolina. Charter schools and the Innovative School District are not counted in that category.

“Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic, it was imperative that we remained focused and committed to closing learning gaps and to improving student skill deficits,” said Northampton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Pamela Chamblee in a press release provided to the News-Herald last month.

During the public comments portion of Monday’s meeting, a handful of parents and citizens cited that article to express their concerns about the district.

“We have to do better. This is nothing to brag about,” said Elrena Rawls, noting that she didn’t believe her child had enough support from the school district while enrolled there.

“We need to stop sugarcoating it,” added Shakiyla Spruill during her comments.

Spruill said she had reached out before but her concerns were not addressed, and she also worried that the students were not getting enough mental health support.

Kiera Goode questioned the effectiveness of learning strategies used in the classroom, noting that the district is still considered “low performing.”

Cheryl Jones asked how the district is planning to bring up the scores to ensure student success.

Georgia Harrison and Clinton Williams both stated that they thought the information about the district rank was incorrect.

“None of the schools are where they need to be,” Williams said, but did add that the two schools with the best results were the ones with administrators who have been with the district the longest.

It is the board’s policy to respond to public comments in writing or by phone within 30 days instead of immediately during the meeting.

But even though board members did not directly address the concerns brought before them Monday evening, they all spoke during the meeting on the importance of working together with parents, staff, and students. They also thanked citizens for attending the meeting and sharing their thoughts.

The NCDPI data was discussed again later on the meeting agenda. Geneva Faulkner, Northampton’s Executive Director for K-12 Curriculum and Instruction, was already scheduled to make a presentation about the assessment data.

Faulkner detailed the district’s testing results and compared it to statewide averages. Additionally, she explained step by step how to sort the spreadsheet data from NCDPI’s website to see that Northampton’s ranking is indeed 112 out of 115.

“There is no doubt that there was a statewide impact of the pandemic on all districts,” Faulkner said.

In all testing levels of Mathematics, for example, the statewide change in performance dropped several percentage points when comparing test scores before the pandemic to the most recent ones. For the district, however, the percentage decrease was smaller. Some levels even saw a small improvement.

According to the NCDPI data, the percent of students scoring at or above Grade Level Proficiency (GLP) in the district was 19.4 percent. The districts with GLP percentages lower than Northampton County were Warren County Schools (18.8 percent), Weldon City Schools (16.3 percent), and Halifax County Schools (16.1 percent).

Within the Northampton County district itself, there was a range of results among the schools for the 2020-2021 school year. The highest GLP percentage was 44.7 percent at Early College High School and the lowest was 8 percent at Northampton County High School.

“This is not saying that we are happy that we’re at 112,” Faulkner said, but noted that all the districts in the state have had to face the same challenges caused by the pandemic.

“We are not proud of being at a low level,” she continued, “but we do know that when students have had historically low performing situations, then you have to work on filling those gaps and helping students overcome those deficiencies in order to become proficient.”

Faulkner’s presentation also included data on the district’s ranking in previous years. The district has been 115 out of 115 since the 2014-2015 school year, though the GLP percentage points typically ranged between 27 percent to 33 percent. In the few years prior to that, the district’s rank ranged anywhere from 104 to 109.

To conclude the presentation, Faulkner emphasized that NCDPI has not released the EVAAS growth data for schools across the state yet, but it is expected later this Fall. That growth data, along with the performance data Faulkner presented, is calculated together to determine each district’s annual “letter grade.”

NCDPI has not released performance letter grades since the pandemic began.

Additionally, Faulkner pointed out that the state has also not updated its “low performing” designations for school districts, meaning that that data remains the same as it was for the 2018-2019 school year. Low performing districts are ones where a majority of the schools are deemed “low performing” as well.

Northampton County is one of the districts which continues to hold that “low performing” designation.