Sunday, October 1, 2023

State report card: 7 tri-county schools back to passing, chronic low-performing schools still struggling

This year’s report denotes seven of the 24 former low-performing schools in the tri-county systems now have passing grades, including Holly Shelter Middle School. The school also is the overall number five school in the state for growth and the number one “Title 1” school, according to NHCS. (Port City Daily/File)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — State data indicates Cape Fear schools are recovering from Covid-19 learning setbacks, while many in underserved areas remain in need of extra support. 

READ MORE: State report marks one-third NHC schools ‘low-performing,’ more than double pre-pandemic

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction released its accountability data from the 2022-2023 school year on Wednesday. The state provides letter grades A through F to each school based 80% on reading, math and science test scores and 20% on growth measures. Schools that are marked by Ds or Fs that have also failed to exceed growth expectations are considered “low performing.” 

Last year, 11 New Hanover County Schools were marked low performing, along with five in Brunswick and eight in Pender counties. The drop in scores was consistent across the state due to challenges associated with online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

This year’s report denotes seven of the former 24 low-performing schools in the tri-county districts now have passing grades.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, NHCS Superintendent Charles Foust said staff expect “a huge celebration across our district” in anticipation of the data release.

The report marks five NHC schools that were low performing last year returning to a grade level C and above. Those schools include Holly Shelter Middle, Myrtle Grove Middle, Aldermen Elementary, the International School at Gregory and Blair Elementary. 

Also, 36 out of 40 schools met or exceeded growth in NHC, compared to 27 from 2021-2022; 14 increased a letter grade and 18 climbed in growth status. Holly Shelter Middle ranked fifth statewide for growth and came in as the number one “Title 1” school.

“We removed barriers for our teachers so that they could focus on instruction. Those educators were the driving force behind this achievement and they deserve all the recognition,” Foust said in a press release. “Our district continues to have the clear goal of ensuring that all students, regardless of their zip code, receive a high-quality, rigorous education.” 

The report shows seven schools are marked low-performing this year, compared to 11 last year. The schools include Rachel Freeman School of Engineering (F), College Park Elementary (D), the Career Readiness Academy at Moseley (D), Snipes Academy of Arts & Design (D), Forest Hills Global Elementary (F), Williston Middle Schools (F) and Wrightsboro Elementary (D). The latter three schools were reported failing to meet growth expectations, while the others met theirs.

Snipes and Wrightsboro did improve their grade level from an F to a D.

The schools, many chronically low-performing, are located in underserved areas of the county. All seven serve surrounding areas where over 40% of the population resides below 200% of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that would include household incomes below $60,000.

Earlier this year, NHCS discussed a three-pronged approach to uplifting the low-performing schools with a tutor program, principal mentorship, and a paid intensive for teachers in those schools. The idea was to formulate a pilot program to garner state support and funding. The district also has a federally funded incentive program for instructors at Rachel Freeman School of Engineering and Forest Hills Global Elementary, both Title I schools. 

Brunswick and Pender counties schools also saw marginal improvement over last year’s grading.

Last year, eight schools were marked low-performing: Cape Fear Elementary, Burgaw Middle, Cape Fear Middle, Pender High, Penderlea Elementary, Pender Innovative Learning Academy, Rocky Point Elementary and West Pender Middle. 

Two schools — C.F. Pope and Malpass Corner elementaries — received D grades but exceeded growth measures. 

One school, Rocky Point Elementary, improved to a passing grade, yet C.F. Pope regressed to a D grade.

Similarly, in Brunswick County, Lincoln Elementary was the only school to move out of low-performing status. Bolivia Elementary, Leland Middle, Shallotte Middle, Supply Elementary maintained a D grade; only Leland Middle met growth expectations.

The North Carolina General Assembly moved to the A-F model for the 2013-2014 school year to satisfy federal and state markers; the former requires the percentage of students proficient in reading and mathematics. 

The system has been criticized by educators and parents as placing too much emphasis on test scores. In June, NCDPI data showed the state has more D and F schools — 42% — and fewer A schools compared to other states with A-F systems. However, North Carolina students were making similar, or sometimes better, marks on tests. 

Many states use additional indicators for state evaluation; only 11 solely use the federal A-F model. Texas allows for locally selected indicators to account for 50% of the model, while Wisconsin uses two totally different systems, both of which include achievement, growth, and chronic absenteeism. However, the state system includes additional measures, such as on-track and post-secondary readiness measures.

NCDPI is currently working through a new evaluation method using multiple indicators, which could include post graduation outcomes and school climate. September marks a year since it began assessing a new system, though no goal date is set for implementation.

In June, the department announced the following additional indicators the department is considering: 

  • Five-year cohort graduation rate: The percentage of students who fulfill graduation requirements within five years of entering grade 9
  • Chronic absenteeism: The percentage of students who exceed a specified number of absences deemed to be chronic
  • Improvement in student group performance: Measures of subgroup performance as defined by growth targets and actual outcomes
  • Post-secondary inputs:
    • Elementary: Percentage of students who participate in a career exploration activity
    • Middle: Percentage of students who have a career development plan.
    • High school: Percentage of students who fulfill at least one of a defined list of postsecondary preparation programs/classes/certifications
  • Postsecondary outcomes: Percentage of graduates who either have confirmed acceptance or enrollment in a postsecondary institution, enlistment in the military, or employed
  • Extra/Intra Curricular: Percentage of students who participate in at least one extracurricular or intra-curricular activity
  • Durable Skills: Informed by the developing rubrics for the competencies defined by the Portrait of a Graduate initiative
  • School Climate: Possibly a student, teacher and parent survey instrument

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