The recently released Dare County Schools Accountability Report for 2015-2016 — which includes the much-watched and oft-criticized school performance grades — paints a largely positive picture of what is going on in county classrooms, albeit with a few worrisome signs.
“Tonight, we are glad to say, you will see a story that’s defined by steady progress for the most part…I’m proud of the work our teachers do. I would give them higher grades than this is showing,” said Dare County Schools Superintendent Sue Burgess during her review of the grades at the Sept. 13 Board of Education meeting. The statewide report on school performance was released on Sept. 1.
One area of concern in the report was the performance of Manteo Elementary School, the only school in the district to receive a D performance grade. (Its score of 54 put it one point below the cutoff line for a C). Conversely, a bright spot was the strong performance of Cape Hatteras Elementary School, where the overall performance grade jumped eight points — from a 67 to a 75 — putting it firmly into B territory.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the accountability report.
• When it came to overall performance grades for the 10 Dare County public schools, there were seven B’s, two C’s and one D. The two schools with the highest grades (both at 81 points) were Manteo High School and First Flight High. The two C’s belonged to Manteo Middle School (64) and Cape Hatteras Secondary School (62) and the D went to Manteo Elementary School (54). Eight of the district’s 10 schools improved their numerical scores from 2014-2015. The two that dropped, Manteo Elementary and Kitty Hawk Elementary, lost only one point.
•Dare County elementary school students clearly outperformed the statewide average when it came to the End of Grade (EOG) tests in math, reading and science. In those areas tested, the percentage of Dare County students performing at or above grade level ranged from 62.9% to 79.1%. Those grades were higher than the state average in every test — by a range of anywhere from about four to 10 percentage points.
•One area that Burgess called “a low spot for us” and a “low spot for the state” is the eighth grade math EOG result. Only 44.4% of Dare eighth graders were at or above grade level on that test, virtually equal to the 44.7% average of statewide students who performed at or above grade level. Given the continuing problem with middle school math scores, Burgess has questioned whether there is a disconnect between the middle school math curriculum and what is being tested on the EOG’s
•The Dare County high schools’ End of Course (EOC) results on English II, math I and biology showed that between 70% and 72% percent of Dare students were performing at above grade level, numbers that exceeded the state averages by 10 to 15 points. The county’s on-time graduation rate for the class of 2016 was 95.4% — up from 93.8% last year. That set a county record and ranked the district No. 2 in the state in that category.
•The report had some sobering news for Manteo Elementary. It was one of two county schools — along with Cape Hatteras Secondary — that did not meet the expected growth standard. (Growth measures students’ academic progress.) Its performance grade in reading dropped to 52 from 56 last year and, in math, the decrease was down to 54 from 57. Moreover, its overall performance grade inched down to 54 from 55, which was symbolically important because that produced the overall D grade – which applies to any school that receives a numerical grade in the range of 40 to 54. In her review of the Manteo Elementary grades, Burgess insisted she had “confidence” in that school, adding that “I want to say to Manteo Elementary School teachers that we do not consider this…to be representative of your hard work.”
•But, if the Manteo report was troubling, there was lots of good news for Cape Hatteras Elementary. It was one of two schools, along with Manteo High School, to exceed expected academic growth in 2015-2016. Its performance grades for reading were 71 (up substantially from 62 in 2014-2015), 73 in Math (up from 67) and 75 overall (up from 67). And that eight-point jump overall was the highest of any school in the district.
•One point of contention for Dare County school officials is what they see as a flawed methodology for the performance grades, which are 80 percent based on test scores and 20 percent based on academic growth. Burgess said, “I would like to see those [percentages] reversed or at least fifty-fifty.”
And the superintendent’s presentation stated that this heavy emphasis on test scores “adversely affects” schools with economically disadvantaged students, disabled students, at-risk students and English learners, formerly known as English as a second language students.
Some of those demographic and economic characteristics might explain the disappointing grades at Manteo Elementary, where 60 percent of the students are in the free or reduced lunch program and 16 percent of its students are English learners. Both of those numbers are well above the county averages in those categories, which are 42 percent and 6 percent respectively.
But Manteo Elementary’s numbers are not much different than at the higher-scoring Cape Hatteras Elementary School, where 61 percent of the students are on the free or reduced lunch program and 12 percent of its students are English learners.
In an interview with the Sentinel, Burgess lauded the progress at Cape Hatteras Elementary, adding that “they knew exactly what they did differently” to earn the higher grades.
One key element was the implementation of a system that had grade level teachers meeting weekly with principals to dig deeply in data such as student test scores. That information was then used to “re-group” students and create daily 30-minute periods where students with similar academic needs – such as those having trouble with numerators — could be taught together.
Asked if such programs could be a model for schools such as Manteo Elementary, Burgess said, “I have seen this remarkable data of Cape Hatteras’ improvement over one year. I would be remiss if I didn’t pass [their innovations] on to the other principals in the system.”
(This article is reprinted from The Outer Banks Sentinel. For more news, features, and sports go to www.obsentinel.com.)