LAURINBURG — For the second year, the Scotland County Schools have brought home a report card of their own from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
The grades released this week were based on student scores on tests administered in the 2014-2015 school year. In Scotland County, eight schools earned Cs, with two Ds, one A, one B, and one F.
Scotland Early College High was the only school in the district to earn an A, followed by Laurel Hill Elementary with the only B.
Covington Street, Pate-Gardner, North Laurinburg, Scotland High, South Scotland, Spring Hill, Sycamore Lane, and Washington Park were all C-grade schools in the state ranking. Wagram Elementary and Carver were graded D.
I.E. Johnson slipped from a D in the 2013-2014 grades to an F.
School officials say that the report, which assigns a letter grade to every school in the state based on student performance on standardized End of Grade and End of Course tests, fails to provide an accurate representation of each schools’ students and their growth throughout the school year.
“I don’t believe it’s a good system; I don’t think that it takes into account what happens on a daily basis inside of that school,” said Superintendent Ron Hargrave. “It’s a one-time snapshot, basically. One day out of the year, kids take a test, and if everybody is on their game, then we’re going to perform well. If not, they don’t get another opportunity.
“There are a lot of great things that take place over the course of the year and there are a lot of children that grow significantly, but that is not reflected when you see that letter grade.”
In the previous year’s grades, only six of Scotland County’s schools were graded at a C or above, but last year the scores of North Laurinburg, Pate-Gardner, Washington Park, and Sycamore Lane rose from D to C. The grades were assigned on a 15-point scale.
Achievement scores for high schools are also based on student ACT and WorkKeys scores, math course rigor, and graduation rates. Scotland High School’s 85 percent four-year graduation rate last year boosted the school’s overall achievement score and brought the school system’s graduation rate to 81.8 percent — the highest since in that number’s recorded history.
In 2013, the school system’s four-year graduation rate was a full nine points lower, at 72.8 percent. Scotland County Schools testing director Jonathan McRae attributes the improvement to the schools’ increased adaptability to each student’s needs.
“I see more focus on the individual student, and that’s really been adopted K-12,” McRae said. “So students who may have been kind of lost in the transition between 8th and 9th grade, we’re doing a better job of making sure each of those students has a plan. We’re also looking at other options students may have in trying to address those issues.”
Also, instead of funnelling all students into advanced pre-calculus courses, the school system permits students planning to attend trade school or enter the workforce immediately upon graduation to substitute math-intensive technical courses to fulfill graduation requirements.
“Overall I think we’re doing a better job of identifying which students need which courses to graduate and making sure they stay on track for that,” McRae said.
District-wide, student proficiency on the End of Grade reading exam ranged from 43.9 percent among eighth graders to 56.3 percent among fourth graders.
EOG math scores in the elementary grades were higher overall, with 66.5 percent of third graders, 52 percent of fourth graders, and 61.4 percent of fifth graders scoring a level 3, 4, or 5. Among middle school students, 35 percent of sixth graders, 45.7 percent of seventh graders, and 32.1 percent of eighth graders scored a level 3 or above.
At Laurel Hill Elementary, 83.5 percent of its students were proficient on the EOG math test, with 34 percent of fifth graders scoring a level 5.
On the EOG science test administered to fifth and eighth graders, 74.5 percent of fifth graders scored at least a level 3, as did 67.2 percent of eighth graders.
Held up against the percentage of students performing on grade level statewide, Scotland County is not far behind at 52.1 percent to the state’s 56.6.
Student growth factored in for 20 percent of each school’s score. Students at Washington Park, Sycamore Lane, and Scotland Early College High exceeded average levels of growth demonstrated throughout the state, while Covington Street, Laurel Hill, North Laurinburg, Pate-Gardner, and Spring Hill were on par with the state average.
“It’s a way of comparing our students’ performance to the way they were expected to perform compared to other students across the state,” McRae said.
Of the six schools not to meet expected growth, I.E. Johnson was the closest, with a growth score of 69 one point away from the B level.
Reflecting on the schools’ scores, Hargrave said that there is no quick fix, but that methods to improve each school — including the A-graded early college — are already in place.
“I think when you look at the letter grades and you look at our levels of poverty, they’re directly reflective,” he said. “What we’ve got to do is get beyond that mindset and focus on the individual needs of the children in the schools, and we’ll continue to grow. IEJ is not a failing school, but they have a failing letter by a system that, whether I like it or not, is the system that we have to play by.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.