LUMBERTON — The Public Schools of Robeson County is no longer on North Carolina’s list of low-performing school districts, and the schools showed gains overall in important areas on the annual accountability grade card that was released by the state Board of Education last week.
Despite getting off the low-performing list, the schools ranked 14th from the bottom among North Carolina school districts for its percentage of low-performing schools.
One Robeson high school, five middle schools and 15 elementary schools earned Ds or Fs on their report cards. This compares with 27 schools out of 41 schools recording Ds or Fs in 2016-17.
The system’s year-over-year improvement is most evident in the number of schools that met or exceeded their “growth” goals. In the latest report, only eight Robeson Schools did not meet their goals compated with 16 in 2016-17.
The grade card is based largely on students’ performance on End of Grade test scores in elementary and middle schools and End of Course for high school students. Overall performance scores are weighted 80 percent to test scores and 20 percent to growth scores.
Superintendent Shanita Wooten said she is pleased with the report card and praised teachers, administrators, support staff and community supporters.
“The wonderful students and educators that we have in the Public Schools of Robeson County worked really hard,” Wooten said. “Without the support of our community members, local businesses, elected officials, and our parents, we would not have been able to achieve this first of many goals.”
Wooten credited the success to the improvement of instruction that was an emphasis across the district.
“As a district, we designed and implemented new strategies that were supported by all of our principals, teachers, support and central office staff,” she said. “Everyone took a hands-on approach to ensuring that our students were receiving high quality instruction every day.”
State Superintendent Mark Johnson was encouraged by a decline in the number of low-performing schools and districts from the previous year.
“The fact that fewer schools and districts are underperforming is positive news in this year’s accountability report,” Johnson said. “We thank teachers and school leaders for their hard work and hope that more effective support from the Department of Public Instruction will continue to improve those numbers.”
There were also declines in state scores in reading, and Johnson said there are challenges.
“We have some things to celebrate,” Johnson said at a news conference. “We also have things that will make us pause and have concerns.”
For the 2017-18 school year, 17 out of 41 Robeson schools were judged low performing compared with 27 low-performing schools in the 2016-17 report. To make the list, half of a district’s schools must be rated as low performing.
If Robeson’s lowest performing schools are faring better, its schools continue to struggle to earn As and Bs. Only Robeson Early College and Southeastern Academy earned As, and East Robeson and Tanglewood elementary schools and Red Springs High School earned Bs.
Souteastern Academy has been a charter school since 2014, and is not a part of the local school system
Principal Kristen Stone attributed the school’s success to highly qualified teachers, 53 percent of whom have advanced degrees, and small classes.
“With 218 students, K-8, we are able to offer smaller class sizes that allow our teachers and staff to really get to know the students and provide research-based instructional strategies that meet the needs of each individual learner,” she said. “Our staff, students, and parents work very hard and have seen improvement each year.”
For all North Carolina’s schools, one-third earned As or Bs and 22 percent earned Ds or Fs. The local system fell far short of that mark with less than 10 percent earning As or Bs and slightly more than 50 percent earned Ds or Fs.
On the other hand, only three schools — Southside Ashpole Elementary, Townsend Middle and Lumberton Junior High School — received Fs this year. On last year’s grade card, eight schools earned Fs.
Southside Ashpole was taken over by the state’s Innovative School District for the next five years beginning in the 2018-19 school year. The school struggled, scoring 20 percent on its overall school achievement rating compared with 78 percent for Tanglewood Elementary and 73.9 percent for East Robeson.
Southside Ashpole was not the lowest scoring school in the county. Townsend Middle scored 14.7 percent for its overall school achievement. These scores translate badly for reading and math scores on the EOG.
Compared with last year, there were bright spots and not-so-bright spots. St. Pauls Middle School raised its school growth index by 11 points and East Robeson Elementary by 6.39 points.
Lumberton schools struggled. The high school dropped 7.74 points on its school growth index and scored a C overall; the junior high dropped 7.56 points and scored a F; and Carroll Middle dropped 5.79 points, scoring a D. None of the three Lumberton schools met expected growth marks.
While Wooten sees this report as a major achievement for the Public Schools of Robeson County, she knows there is still a lot of work to be done and is committed to achieving the new
goals that the district has set forth.
“Overall, I am happy and grateful not only for our staff and students, but for our community,” she said. “I want everyone to be proud of the work that was done and what we achieved, but know we still have work to do.”
This summer, the district has implemented a five-year strategic plan focused on instructional excellence, professional capacity, parent and community engagement, and planning and operational effectiveness. The plan recognizes the strengths of each school while charting a course to overcome the challenges that have been identified.
The district has shifted its focus to transformation and innovation, Wooten said.
“With the Board of Education’s unwavering support of our administrative staff, we know we can continue to improve our school system,” Wooten said. ”Their approval of additional support staff within the curriculum, instruction and accountability department and the restructuring of our administrative staff will undoubtedly lead to success. We have hit the ground running in the 2018-19 school year and I am optimistic we will achieve all the goals we have set forth.”
School grades continue to correlate closely with the poverty levels of schools, according to state Superintendent Johnson. Among schools where more than 81 percent of students come from low-income families, 69 percent of the schools received a D or F; in schools with poverty rates between 61 and 80 percent, 45 percent of the schools received a D or F.
Conversely, in schools with poverty rates less than 20 percent, only 1.7 percent of schools received a D or F; schools between 21 and 40 percent poverty, 3.6 percent received a D or F. Schools with lower levels of poverty are more likely to earn As and Bs.
Statewide, middle school students in 2017-18 generally gained in both reading and math, particularly seventh and eighth graders, while the performance of students in elementary grades was mixed.
Third graders saw an improvement on math exams, with higher percentages of students meeting standards, but their performance on reading exams was down on both standards from the previous year.
Among high school students, performance improved on the end-of-course exam in biology, but achievement rates for both standards dipped in English II and Math 1 tests.
Superintendent Johnson said that while last year was something of a reset year for measuring performance at the school level, student performance shows the state must continue to stress innovation and personalized learning to ensure continued progress.
“We know that students learn best when instruction is tailored to their needs,” Johnson said, “so we’re adjusting our supports for educators at the state level to help make that happen. Teachers are working hard and our state must transform our system to complement their efforts.”
For 2017-18, 476 schools were identified as low performing, down from 505 in 2016-17, and seven districts were low performing, down from 11 in 2016-17. The number of recurring low-performing schools fell from 468 in 2016-17 to 435 in 2017-18.
In terms of growth achieved by schools this past year, 27 percent exceeded expected growth, 45.7 percent of schools met their expected performance and 27.3 percent fell short of their expected result.
A complete list of scores on all North Carolina schools and districts are at ncpublicschools.org.
Follwing are Robeson County’s Deep Branch Elementary, D, met growth goals; East Robeson Primary, B, exceeded growth goals; Green Grove Elementary, C, met goals; Janie C. Hargrave Elementary, D, met goals; Long Branch Elementary, C, exceeded goals; Magnolia Elementary, D, met goals; Oxendine Elementary, D, exceeded goals; Parkton Elementary, D, met goals; Pembroke Elementary, D, exceeded goals; Peterson Elementary, D, did not meet goals; Piney Grove Elementary, D, did not meet goals; Prospect Elementary, D, met goals; R.B. Dean Elementary, D, met goals; Rex-Rennert Elementary, D, exceeded goals; Rosenwald Elementary, D, exceeded goals; Rowland Norment Elementary, C, met goals; St. Pauls Elementary, D, met goals; Tanglewood Elementary, B, met goals; Southside Ashpole Elementary, F, did not meet goals;
Union Chapel Elementary, C, exceeded goals; Union Elementary, D, exceeded goals;W H Knuckles, D, exceeded goals;
West Lumberton Elementary, C, met goals; Fairgrove Middle, D, met growth goals; Fairmont Middle, D, exceeded goals;
L. Gilbert Carroll Middle, D, did not meet goals; Littlefield Middle, C, met goals; Lumberton Junior, F, did not meet goals;
Orrum Middle, D, met goals; Pembroke Middle, D, exceeded goals; Red Springs Middle, D, exceededgoals; Rowland Middle, D, met goals; St. Pauls Middle, C, exceeded goals; Townsend Middle, F, met goals; Fairmont High, C, did not meet growth goals; Lumberton High, C, did not meet growth goals; Purnell Swett High, C, exceeded goals; Red Springs High, B, exceeded goals; St. Pauls High, C, did not meet goals. South Robeson High, D, did not meet goals.