Student testing results mixed
by Kellen Moore
The state’s standardized tests in grades 3-12 are used to assess student proficiency, as well as growth. Those measures are then evaluated together to assign a recognition status, which can range from Low-Performing School to Honor School of Excellence.
For the 2011-12 school year, five Watauga County schools — Green Valley, Hardin Park, Parkway, Valle Crucis and Watauga High — were named Schools of Distinction, the second-highest status in the system.
Bethel and Cove Creek were named Schools of Progress, while Mabel fell short of state recognition levels.
Blowing Rock Elementary was named an Honor School of Excellence, the highest level, for a third consecutive year.
Last year, eight of the nine schools achieved School of Distinction status.
Superintendent David Kafitz, who officially joined the school system July 1, was not here during last year’s testing cycle but said he is pleased with the starting point presented to him.
“We have a lot to be proud of in Watauga County Schools for the performance of our students,” he said. “That just shows the great dedication our teachers have to providing great instruction to our students.”
“But with everything, what I’ve told principals is, we’re a great school system, but we need to stay great and keep getting better,” he said.
Part of the testing results measure basic proficiency — whether a student’s grasp of a subject shows that they are working at or above expectations for their grade level or for a particular course.
In grades 3-8, the combined proficiency rates in reading, math, science and any End-of-Course tests are averaged into the performance composite score.
In Watauga County Schools, those performance composites ranged from 76.5 at Bethel to 94.9 at Blowing Rock.
Systemwide, 90.2 percent of Watauga County Schools students met or exceeded proficiency in math, and 85.6 percent met or exceeded expectations in reading. In science, 83.2 percent of fifth-grade scores and 85.6 percent of eighth-grade scores met or exceeded proficiency standards.
At Watauga High School, 86.4 percent of all EOC results for the three tested subjects, English I, algebra I and biology, met or exceeded proficiency.
The second element that plays into the recognition statuses is growth. Testing results indicate whether a school has met expected growth, high growth or neither.
The Department of Public Instruction notes that even schools with high academic achievement and most students at grade level should be showing growth each year.
In Watauga County Schools, Cove Creek and Parkway achieved expected growth, while Bethel, Blowing Rock, Green Valley, Hardin Park, Valle Crucis and Watauga High School earned the more stringent high growth standard.
Mabel fell short of expected growth by a very narrow margin, Kafitz said.
“While Mabel’s not showing up with any credit per se, they still have nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. “We recognized that a couple of performance points would have made all the difference.”
Growth and proficiency together determine each school’s recognition status.
Statewide, 35 percent of schools were in the School of Progress category, 28 percent were Schools of Distinction and only 12 percent were Schools of Excellence.
To put it in perspective, in K-8 schools, a School of Progress rating would show that the school met expected or high growth and that 60 percent to 79 percent of test results met or exceeded proficiency.
A School of Distinction is one that showed expected or high growth as well as 80 percent to 89 percent of students meeting or exceeding proficiency.
In a School of Excellence, expected or high growth was achieved and 90 percent or more of test results showed proficiency.
At the high school level, graduation rates are also a factor. The four-year graduation rate at Watauga High School was 85.1 percent in 2011-12, which is slightly lower than last year, but about five percentage points higher than the statewide average.
Annual measurable objectives
In addition to measuring proficiency and growth, the state test results also determine whether schools meet established Annual Measurable Objectives, or AMOs.
The AMOs, which take the place of the Adequate Yearly Performance measures that used to be included in the results, divide the results based on subgroups, such as race, lower income, students with disabilities and more. Each subgroup has its own target to meet, and those targets are not identical from subgroup to subgroup.
Four of the nine schools, or 44 percent, in Watauga County Schools met all of their AMO targets, compared to 46 percent of schools statewide.
The school system as a whole met 44 out of 45 AMO targets. The only one it did not achieve was the desired four-year graduation rate for students with disabilities, Kafitz said.
While the annual testing results are an important measure for teachers, parents and administrators to gauge students’ progress, they can be complicated.
Anyone interested in learning more can visit http://www.abcs.ncpublicschools.org/abcs/ to compare scores. Tables summarizing the test results also will be available soon on the Watauga County Schools website at http://www.watauga.k12.nc.us.
The Board of Education also is expected to hear a thorough breakdown of results at its next board meeting, set for 7 p.m. Aug. 13, Kafitz said. The school board meetings are open to the public and could provide another opportunity for parents to learn more about these new testing results.
While the results can be a point of pride for schools, teachers no longer receive monetary awards based on their school’s growth.
This is the last year that testing results will be released in this format, at the ABCs school accountability system will be succeeded next year by the new READY model.
The READY model will not use terms such as School of Excellence and School of Distinction. Instead, under new legislation approved by the General Assembly this year, each school will receive an A through F letter grade reflecting the proficiency results.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated how many times Blowing Rock Elementary has been named an Honor School of Excellence. The story has been corrected.