KCS pushes forward after test score release
By Rebecca Rider
KANNAPOLIS — Test scores have been out for nearly a week, the celebration is over, and school districts are settling in to work.
For Kannapolis City Schools officials, that means keeping their eyes on the goal.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, and it’s not going change over night,” Superintendent Dr. Chip Buckwell said.
While the majority of the district’s schools met or exceeded growth measures, it will be the second year in a row that KCS makes the state’s list of low-performing school districts. While two schools exceeded growth and four met growth, it wasn’t enough to meet the state’s requirements that a majority of schools exceed growth or achieve a school performance grade of a C or higher.
At the high school level, 80 percent of the grade is based on results from a variety of performance measures: end of course tests, four-year graduation rate, ACT scores, WorkKeys results, and the percentage of students that successfully complete higher level math. Only 20 percent of a high school’s grade is based on how much academic growth students make. For K-8 schools, 80 percent of their grade is based on end of grade test results while only 20 percent is based on academic growth.
No school in the district scored an F rating, but five schools earned a D rating, and no school achieved a B. Both of the schools to exceed growth — Forest Park and Jackson Park elementaries — exceeded growth expectations. Two schools, Fred L. Wilson Elementary and A.L. Brown High School, did not meet growth expectations.
But there is some good news. After it was tagged as a low-performing district in 2015, KCS was required to put together an improvement plan — and there has been improvement. The district as a whole has increased its growth by 12 and a half percentage points over 2015. And while it still ranks below the state average, Kannapolis City Schools has also improved its overall level of student proficiency in 2016.
“Is it ever fast enough? Probably not, but I think we’re moving in the right spot,” Buckwell said of the growth.
The fact that North Carolina’s school performance grading system puts a heavy emphasis on proficiency over academic growth means schools can receive low grades despite tremendous academic progress by their students.
Kannapolis City Schools’ Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Kelly Burgess, said in a press release that the letter grades are not the best measure of how well schools are performing.
“From an educational perspective, student growth is a much better measure of how well a school is doing than standardized test results,” Burgess said. “Research consistently shows that standardized tests say much more about students’ economic background than they do about how much children are learning.”
Buckwell said the hard work of KCS students and staff is showing results.
“We achieved a tremendous amount of growth in 2015-16, and I’m very proud of our students and staff for the excellent work they did. Two of our schools, Kannapolis Intermediate School and Kannapolis Middle School, each increased their growth by more than 10 points, which is phenomenal. We still are not where we want to be in terms of overall achievement, but we’ve made significant changes during the past year that are making a difference and moving us forward,” he said in a press release.
Another performance measure released Thursday were high school graduation rates. During 2015-16, KCS saw a decline in its four-year graduation rate. It went from 85.3 percent in 2015 to 82.3 percent in 2016. However, the district’s five-year graduation rate rose to 86.4 percent, which is an increase of more than two percentage points over the previous year.
The district has started several new programs to increase student growth, and plans on launching several more — including three magnet school options, which are set to open in 2017. Buckwell also said that the system plans to expand professional development opportunities for staff by providing four half-days a year dedicated solely to training.
But Buckwell said he is disappointed that KCS has been labeled as low performing based on school performance grades.
“Our proficiency scores are not where we want them to be, and everyone in Kannapolis City Schools is committed to making them better,” he said in a press release. “However, I don’t think the label we have received accurately reflects what is happening in our classrooms . . . Despite the fact that our schools made great academic growth last year, they were not rewarded for that progress. I hope the legislature will address this issue and make academic growth a larger part of how our schools are measured. In the meantime, I’m confident that we have the right people in place and are doing the right things to make our students successful in Kannapolis City Schools.”
Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.
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