The Stokes County school system got good and bad news in annual state assessments released last week.
The report, released by the state Department of Instruction on Sept. 2, shows Stokes County continues to improve graduation rates but also highlights a slow down in student growth in the 2014-15 school year.
“For the first time the school system hit over 90 percent with our graduation rate,” said Director of Testing and Accountability Michael Sands. “We had 90.31 percent countywide over a four year time span. Four of our five schools exceeded 90 percent.”
North Stokes High School topped the list with 95.69 percent, followed by South Stokes High School with 94.15 percent, Stokes Early College High School with 93.1 percent and West Stokes High School with 92.7 percent.
“This is the first time we have had a school to exceed 95 percent,” said Sands. “We are meeting the students where they need us. We are reaching out to them before they ever make it to ninth grade, before they get to the point of wanting to drop out.”
Meadowbrook Academy had a graduation rate of 41.18 percent for four years and 46.7 percent for five years.
“Even though they are not finishing in four years we are still working with those students to get them a diploma in a five year span,” said Sands.
But while graduation rates continue to improve, the district saw decreases in student growth, a measure of how much students are learning and improving over a year, in many county schools, according to the report.
Last year the county had 13 schools which exceeded state growth expectations, four which met state expectations and two which did not meet those expectations. This year only two schools, Francisco Elementary which closed this summer and Walnut Cove Elementary School, exceeded growth expectations. Eleven schools are listed as meeting growth expectations, and seven schools, Chestnut Grove Middle School, Meadowbrook Academy, North Stokes High School, Piney Grove Middle School, Poplar Springs Elementary School, London Elementary School, and West Stokes High School, were listed as not meeting expectations of growth.
“The state allows a growth index of 1.99 to -1.99 to be considered as meeting growth expectations,” said Sands. “There were a lot of our schools that were right at the threshold of being close to meeting expectations.”
Chestnut grove had an index of -2.15, North Stokes had an index of 2.74, Poplar Springs had an index of -2.35, London had an index of -2.48 and West Stokes had an index of -2.30.
Two schools, Meadowbrook and Piney Grove, had much lower scores. Sands said Meadowbrook had an index of -4.55, but noted that the school was an alternative school designed to help students who were already struggling in school to get back on track.
“They are measured against a different standard and are considered to be maintaining where they were at in the past,” he said.
Piney Grove, on the other hand, had an index score of -5.78 earning the school the system’s only “D” in the letter rankings of the schools. Stokes Early College earned the system’s only “A.”
“We are aware they did not do well and you are seeing a lot of staff changes at the school this year,” said Sands. “They have replaced eight teachers this year. We have been digging into data to see if we can hone in on what the problem is there. During our summer leadership meetings we had the middle schools meet together and see where their strong points and weak points were so they can feed off of each other, and look at the other schools and see what they are doing that could work. We are going to continue to do that this year.”
Sands said the system would be taking a similar approach across the county.
“We are having discussions about what instruction is working with a particular type of student so we can duplicate it across the board,” he explained. “If it is working in one place we want to try it someplace else as well. That comes through staff development and having the teachers at the lower performing schools reaching out to the teachers at the higher performing schools. We are hoping to have some of our stronger teachers who have produced the numbers and shown growth go out and do staff development with other teachers.”
Sands noted that it is possible that reduced teacher aids and tutoring opportunities last year as a result of state budget cuts could have played a role in the county’s poorer performance this year.
“We had to do a lot of creative scheduling last year,” he said. “This is just my opinion, but when you don’t have the adults in the room full time or you are having to rely on volunteers to come in and do tutoring, it has to have an impact on the students. Sometimes it is just a matter of a student being able to sit and get help one-on-one with someone. It helps them grasp it a little better.”
Sands pointed out that two schools, London and West Stokes, had made good improvements from last year despite their rankings this year.
“London has made some growth,” said Sands. “The staff engaged in what the principal was doing and they benefited from being able to go back and reteach what they needed to before it came time for assessments.
“West Stokes was at a negative eight last year and this year they are at a negative two, so they have really made some gains,” he added. “We need to commend that staff there on that one.”
The data released last week is the beginning of annual assessments which will be released over the course of the fall, eventually concluding with report cards and detailed assessments for each school.
“These numbers are being reviewed for the next 10 days so they could still be tweaked a little bit,” said Sands. “On Oct. 15 we will have the state report cards released, then there are aspects on teacher effectiveness that will be added to that sometime in mid-November. It will be at that point where families will get the snapshot of what the school actually did.”
The preliminary data can be found online at www.ncpublicschools.org/accountability/reporting.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.