Chatham County Schools administrators characterized year-over-year student performance gains as “substantial,” lauding the growth and performance shown in statewide standardized test scores released last Thursday.
Chatham County saw many of its public schools improve in some key measurements from recent years, despite academic challenges created by the pandemic. For the 2021-22 academic year, CCS saw 18 of 20 schools meet or exceed growth; statewide, only about 70% achieved the feat.
The only CCS schools not to meet or exceed growth were Jordan-Matthews High School and Chatham Central High School.
The N.C. Department of Public Instruction defines growth as “the amount of academic progress that students make over the course of a grade or class. Students enter grades and course at different places; some have struggled while some have excelled. Regardless of how they enter a grade or course, students can make progress over the course of the school year.”
The district also did well on School Performance Grades (SPG). Seventy-four percent of the schools in the district also earned a grade of “C” or better. Grades of D or lower are considered “low-performing” schools; CCS had five such schools: Bonlee School, Chatham Middle, Jordan-Matthews High School, Siler City Elementary and Virginia Cross Elementary.
Statewide, the number of low-performing schools more than doubled since the pre-pandemic school year of 2018-19 — 864 schools in 2021-22, up from 376 schools three years earlier.
Across the district, one CCS school — Chatham School of Science & Engineering — received an A grade. Six schools received Bs, and seven received Cs. No CCS schools received Fs.
School Performance Grades are based on 80% of a school’s achievement score and 20% of student academic growth. The total school performance score is converted to a 100-point scale, and the final grades are based on a 15-point scale: A: 85-100; B: 70-84; C: 55-69; D: 54-40; F: 39 or below.
CCS schools also did better than most of the state in reading, writing and math end-of-grade (EOG) tests. CCS saw sharp composite EOG increases, with gains ranging from 10 to 20 percentage points per school.
“Generally, a performance composite gain of three to five points is considered good. When you see gains of 10 and higher, it is substantial,” said Dr. Amanda Moran, CCS assistant superintendent of Academic Services & Instructional Support. “We are extremely proud of how well these schools did, and want to celebrate the work students and staff members put in to achieve this.”
For each exam, students are graded on five levels of proficiency. If a student scores level two or below, they are considered not proficient. According to NCDPI, “student proficiency is whether or not students have scored at a level that indicates that they consistently demonstrate mastery of the content standards and are well prepared for the next grade or course.”
CCS saw increases in all three major categories — math, reading and science. The district had a 58.7% grade level proficiency (GLP) in math, a 15 percentage point increase from the previous year. CCS also saw a 55.2% GLP in reading and a 73.1% GLP in science.
“Our students and staff really worked hard last year to provide students the opportunity to rebound academically from the impacts of the pandemic during the prior two school years,” said CCS Superintendent Dr. Anthony Jackson. “These data are a testament to the work of our students and staff and the partnership with their parents. Moving forward, we have embedded in our One Chatham Strategic Plan specific goals, strategies and tools to ensure continued academic growth, opportunities and outcomes for our students. We have a lot to celebrate in Chatham.”
The district overall saw a majority of students pass proficiency exams, but that wasn’t the case in every subject. Most notably, only 49% of students in CCS were proficient in the high school end-of-course (EOC) assessment. According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, which administers the exams, the EOC is “used to sample a student’s knowledge of subject-related concepts as specified in the North Carolina Standard Course of Study and to provide a global estimate of the student’s mastery of the material in a particular content area.”
CCS students also struggled in 5th grade reading, with 49% GLP, and especially in High School Math 1, with just a 29% GLP. That means of the 677 students who tested in Math 1, only 196 were considered grade-level proficient.
Despite the troubling math scores, CCS’s overall GLP rate grew from 48% in 2020-21 to 57% in 2021-22 school year. The rate is still 7% lower than in 2016-2017, but remains six points higher than state GLP. The state’s GLP was 51% in 2021-22, 13% lower than where the state was in 2016-17.
The improvements are especially noteworthy because only 45.4% of K-12 students passed state reading, math and science exams in the 2020-21 school year. The test proficiency rate was 45.6% for elementary and middle school students and 44.7% for high school students. The statewide rates are much lower than prior to the pandemic, but state education leaders have cautioned against comparing the results due to educational changes and challenges brought on by COVID-19.
“All of these results point to the fact that Chatham County Schools is an outstanding place to educate children and an excellent place to live and work,” Jackson said. “We have our challenges, we embrace them and have already begun the work of developing support plans to assist schools.”
Some of those challenges include closing the achievement gap inside the county. CCS saw widely varying degrees of proficiency depending on race and economic status. While the district’s overall proficiency rate was 57%, the proficiency of white students was 72%. Meanwhile, Hispanic students had a proficiency of 42% and Black students had a proficiency of 35%. Economics also play a role in GLP scores with just 39% proficiency for CCS economically disadvantaged students.
Full results are available on the NCDPI’s testing dashboard, www.bit.ly/3cQpZt6. Testing data reports will also be posted on the accountability section of the district website www.chatham.k12.nc.us after the Sept. 12 board of education meeting where the district will give a full review of the results.