State says RSS test scores jumped significantly during pandemic

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, March 29, 2022

SALISBURY — Rowan-Salisbury Schools made significant gains relative to the rest of the state during the 2020-2021 school year.

The district was recently sent the state’s valued-added assessments that look at growth on standardized test scores relative to the rest of the state.

The number of schools meeting or exceeding growth jumped from 17 in 2018-2019 to 24 in 2020-2021. The number of those schools actually exceeding growth made a more significant jump from two to 12 in the same time frame.

The district’s literacy rank in the state jumped from 96th to 74th in the state. There was no data released for the 2019-2020 school year because standardized testing was suspended in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief academic officer Jason Gardner presented the numbers to the district Board of Education on Monday and noted the state told local districts to take factors that disrupted the schools into account when viewing the data.

The information will not be used to adjust the number of low-performing schools identified in districts or make other formal assessments. RSS Superintendent Tony Watlington said typically data like this would typically suggest some schools would be removed from the state’s low-performing list.

Some schools that have not met growth targets in recent years hit them in 2021. Knox and North Rowan middle schools both met growth targets after not doing so in 2018 or 2019. Southeast Middle School was the only middle school to exceed growth.

North Rowan and Salisbury high schools both met growth in 2021 after not doing so for the previous two sets of data.

In September, the Post reported 31.1% of students in RSS passed standardized tests in 2021, down from 42.5% in 2019. However, the state saw an even larger decline from a 58.8% pass rate to a 45.4% rate.

Gardner told the Post growth is recalculated every year and students are compared to others across the district with similar testing history.

“If those students dropped as well, and maybe dropped more, then you would have a positive growth index,” Gardner said.

Summit Virtual Academy saw the worst growth index of all the schools, following its low pass rate ranking. It had -13.03 points of growth with no other years to compare it to.

Gardner said that school year, Summit’s first, the school had about 2,500 students enrolled because of apprehension about going to brick and mortar schools. Now there are about 700 students enrolled in the virtual school and those students want to be there.

Gardner said, broadly, students who were in virtual only during the early days of the pandemic performed worse than students who were receiving some in-person instruction. RSS kept schools open all through the 2020-2021 school year on a blended in-person and virtual schedule.

“It just verifies putting a great teacher in front of students, particularly your lowest-achieving students,  if you don’t do anything else, it matters,” Watlington said. “You can not give kids a computer or a device and a whole bunch of software and say ‘Go learn it yourself.’ It does not work for most kids. They need a great teacher in front of them.”

Board member Travis Allen said it seems the middle school grades seem to be the lowest-performing on growth targets and asked Gardner how the the district can address the issue.

Gardner said the district started using the tool iReady at all middle schools this year and three schools piloted material from American Reading Company.

“We feel like more-uniform curriculum expectations would be the step that we need to take,” Gardner said, adding that work has already been happening at the elementary level and the district needs to bring it up to the middle school level.

Travis noted higher-performing elementary school students will also move on to middle school grades as they move through the system.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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