LAURINBURG — New federal laws governing education were the focus of a meeting on Wednesday between Scotland County Schools administrators and principals and the N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction.
June Atkinson spent the day in Scotland County, stopping at the A.B. Gibson Education Center for a question-and-answer session before touring I. Ellis Johnson Elementary School, Scotland High School’s career and technical education department, and Carver Middle School’s STEM academy.
Among topics discussed was the effect that the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which was passed last year to supplant No Child Left Behind, will have in North Carolina and locally. The new federal legislation is more flexible than state law, Atkinson said, and will allow the state to move away from using professional teacher evaluations as punitive measures.
“We have gone to the State Board of Education and asked them to approve the elimination of standards 6 and 8 as a separate standalone standard,” she said, maintaining that student growth data should be used to help teachers improve.
“Of course we will continue to report student growth as we have in the past: in the aggregate. The teacher evaluations and principal evaluations were both designed for a continuous improvement model. It was not I’ve got you, or I’m going to punish you. It was to be to improve.”
Atkinson also solicited input on potential new metrics for school accountability, which might include growth, student engagement, or attendance along with test scores.
“With the federal legislation, we have to add at least one more indicator to the mix,” she said. “So the big question is: what will be that indicator?”
School officials gave feedback on the state’s proof of concept study to test a new assessment system with 9,000 students statewide, including at Carver and Spring Hill middle schools.
“We’ve actually had very positive reviews of it and the model as it was presented,” said Jonathan McRae, the school system’s testing director. “The only kind of caveat is we still have that final end of the year, but I feel like it’s a better model, and we’re more able to adapt the information they get back from it because it’s more of a benchmark, formative model instead of that end of year summative where we can’t do anything with that data.”
Other concerns raised by the local school system’s principals included teacher assistants, mental health support, reducing the number of state tests administered, bus safety, and resurrection of the Teaching Fellows scholarship program.
Atkinson applauded the school system for the improvement in its graduation rate in recent years, which is consistent with higher graduation rates and student reading levels statewide. She also propounded a raise in teachers’ salaries statewide in order to keep quality educators in the classroom.
“We need to continue to be the pea under the mattress, as the fairy tale goes, when it comes to teacher salaries,” said Atkinson. “Because, even though money is not everything, we have to be able to compete and we have to have the teaching profession as one that attracts young people. If we do not do something as a state, if the General Assembly does not address this issue, then we are headed toward teacher shortages.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.