Local “report cards” show mixed results

Published 4:57 pm Tuesday, September 13, 2022

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Impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic are still being felt in many aspects of life, and local school districts are no exception.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) released their annual School Performance Grades on Sept. 1, sharing data from the 2021-2022 school year. This is the first time these grades have been fully calculated since the 2018-2019 school year, the last one before the pandemic made an impact on education locally and throughout the state and nation.

The “report card” system has been in place since the NC General Assembly approved it in 2013. NCDPI calculates the school performance grades based on each school’s achievement score (weight of 80 percent) and each school’s academic growth (weight of 20 percent). Achievement scores are calculated through test results while academic growth results are divided into to three categories: exceeded expectations, met expectations, and did not meet expectations. Each school is then assigned a letter grade based on a 15-point scale.

A press release from NCDPI praised gains across the state as students continue to rebound from disrupted learning during the pandemic, but cautioned making comparisons to older data.

Tammy Howard, accountability director for NCPDI, stated in the release, “results are not objectively comparable to previous years, given the numerous factors that disrupted instruction during the last three years. The 2021-22 test data must be considered within the context of all COVID disruptions. It is not intended to be used as a comparison for the purpose of evaluating effort or drawing conclusions.”

According to the NCDPI data, local school performance grades were generally similar to previous years, though some schools did better than before while others faltered.

Out of the 27 schools (public and charter) in the Roanoke-Chowan area, D was the most common letter grade received from the 2021-22 results. Two schools attained an A grade while five received a failing F grade.

Fourteen schools were designated as “low performing,” which the NCDPI defines as a school with a performance grade of D or F and a growth status of “met” or “not met” expectations. A total of 864 schools across North Carolina were designated as low performing, an increase from 488 schools identified in 2018-19.

Hertford County, Northampton County, and Bertie County districts were all designated as “low performing” based on the data for the 2021-22 year. NCDPI defines low performing districts as those that have more than 50 percent of their schools identified as low performing.

The statewide four-year graduation rate was 86.2 percent. In the Roanoke-Chowan area, only Hertford County High School, Northampton County High School, and KIPP Gaston College Preparatory had graduation rates lower than the state.

School performance grades in the Roanoke-Chowan area for the 2021-22 school year are as follows:

Among the seven schools in Bertie County, the early college program had the highest grade in the district. The four-year cohort graduation rate at Bertie High rose to 90.9 percent while Bertie Early College High maintained a rate higher than 95 percent.

Aulander Elementary: 61 (C grade) – exceeded expectations

Colerain Elementary: 45 (D grade) – met expectations

West Bertie Elementary: 47 (D grade) – met expectations

Windsor Elementary: 53 (D grade) – exceeded expectations

Bertie Middle: 42 (D grade) – met expectations

Bertie Early College High: 74 (B grade) – exceeded expectations

Bertie High: 50 (D grade) – did not meet expectations

Bertie County Schools Superintendent Dr. Otis Smallwood acknowledged that the district, like others, is still recovering from learning loss due to the negative impact of the pandemic. But he also noted that the accountability system places “too low of an emphasis” (only 20 percent) on school growth.

“As superintendent, I disagree with the notion that our schools are low-performing,” he said. “That is a state designation and not one that we believe in or one will live up to at the local level. As I walk through the buildings and witness the great things that are happening in the classrooms, I have not witnessed a low-performing child.”

Dr. Smallwood said that there is still much work to do for students to continue their growth and experience positive academic outcomes, but that will take time.

“Benchmarks have been set, and we will work diligently towards meeting those this year and subsequent years,” he continued. “We are proud of the academic growth that students made during the 21-22 school year, having been the first full year students were in school to receive face-to-face instruction after the pandemic hit. Hopefully, the state will soon recognize the importance of placing more emphasis on growth.”

In Gates County’s district, three out of five schools received a C grade. The four-year graduation rate at Gates County Senior High was 87.9 percent.

Buckland Elementary: 50 (D grade) – met expectations

Gatesville Elementary: 57 (C grade) – did not meet expectations

T S Cooper Elementary: 56 (C grade) – exceeded expectations

Central Middle School: 54 (D grade) – exceeded expectations

Gates County Senior High: 62 (C grade) – met expectations

Dr. Barry Williams, Superintendent of Gates County Schools, noted accomplishments in test scores. Across the four-county region (and including Halifax County), Gates County Schools ranked first in 15 of 18 tested subjects scoring 4 or 5 for College Career Readiness (CCR) and ranked first in 14 of 18 tested subjects scoring levels 3, 4, or 5 for Grade Level Performance (GLP). In a few subjects, Gates County students performed higher than the state average.

“Overall, there are many accomplishments to celebrate as well as areas to focus on,” Dr. Williams stated. “The 2021-22 school year was still impacted by COVID-19 with an extremely large number of students and staff absences due to quarantines. Our focus will be to target areas of learning loss and build upon the strengths of our students and staff.”

Dr. Williams added that the district will continue to work to master content and demonstrate that mastery on state assessments.

“We look forward to the 2022-23 school year with the hope of minimal disruptions to the learning process,” he concluded.

The grades for schools in Hertford County’s district were spread out, ranging from A to F. The graduation rates also ranged widely, from as low as 67.6 percent at Hertford County High School to more than 95 percent at Hertford County Early College and CS Brown High.

Ahoskie Elementary: 36 (F grade) – met expectations

Bearfield Primary: 43 (D grade) – met expectations

Riverview Elementary: 33 (F grade) – met expectations

Hertford County Middle: 38 (F grade) – met expectations

Hertford County High: 41 (D grade) – did not meet expectations

Hertford County Early College: 89 (A grade) – exceeded expectations

CS Brown High: 96 (A grade) – no expectations data listed

Tammi Ward, Interim Superintendent of Hertford County Schools, celebrated accomplishments throughout the district, such as Hertford County Early College’s achievements, Ahoskie Elementary’s growth in Math, and meeting expected growth at several schools within the district.

“Accomplishing growth means we had to overcome deficits in foundation math and reading skills created in the past two years as well as build the current year’s skill level,” Ward explained.

But she also echoed concerns other educators have had about the data not providing the full picture.

“I concur with many of my colleagues across the state that the 2021-22 data is not reflective of the effort and strides educators have made while addressing the post pandemic learning gaps,” she stated. “As we embrace our data, all stakeholders will need to continue the heroic efforts from 2021-22 and commit to new thinking for instruction and learning during these new times.”

In Northampton County, the early college program received the highest grade in the district, as they have in previous years as well. Northampton Early College also had a graduation rate of more than 95 percent, while Northampton County High School’s rate was 72.4 percent.

Central Elementary: 41 (D grade) – met expectations

Willis Hare Elementary: 33 (F grade) – met expectations

Gaston STEM Leadership Academy: 39 (F grade) – met expectations

Conway Middle: 50 (D grade) – exceeded expectations

Northampton Early College: 78 (B grade) – no expectations data listed

Northampton County High School: 41 (D grade) – did not meet expectations

Northampton Virtual Academy: Insufficient data

Northampton County Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Del Burns said that the achievement data shows that much work needs to be done to support student learning at high levels.

“While proficiency scores are important, and reflect the impact of learning loss resulting from the pandemic, growth scores for schools in the district indicate a positive trend that is strong and encouraging,” he explained. “Many of the indicators for the last academic year showed growth that exceeded expectations.”

Dr. Burns concluded by saying, “Over time, with continued focus and effort, proficiency scores will also rise. We are excited about the support being provided to teachers and schools, and look forward to a year of increased academic performance across the district.”

NCDPI also provides performance grades for charter schools in the state. Locally, the only charter school in the four-county area is KIPP Gaston College Preparatory in Northampton County. Three Rivers Academy, located in Bertie County, was shut down by the state earlier this year and no data was reported for the school.

KIPP Gaston received a 46 (D grade) and exceeded expectations. The K-12 charter school had a graduation rate of 78.4 percent.

In statewide statistics, NCDPI reported that approximately seven of every 10 schools achieved at least expected growth during the 2021-22 school year. The test scores, however, still tended to fall below levels reported during 2018-19, and NCDPI estimated students will continue to require months of additional learning time because of pandemic disruptions.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt said in a statement about the data, “Students and schools in North Carolina faced the same hurdles last year as others across the nation. They began the 2021-22 school year handicapped by the year before, that for many, was defined by remote instruction that proved to be less effective than in-person learning. Last year, too, was not without challenges with student and teacher absences because of quarantines and other significant difficulties.”

Despite all that, however, Truitt said the accountability results were a testament to resilience and dedication of educators in North Carolina.

“They know as I do that we still have a steep hill to climb and that every step matters,” she added.

In the statement, Truitt also said she held concerns about the fairness of the performance grades and the 80-20 formula used to calculate them.

“The current accountability model does not do justice to the hard work that teachers and students put in every day in schools across the state, and I look forward to working with stakeholders to consider other metrics important to determining school quality,” she concluded.