The Scotland County Board of Education was informed by school staff this week that, with the implementation of the Common Core and new benchmark testing, the coming school year will create a new baseline for assessment purposes.
Superintendent Rick Stout commended school staff, including middle and high school Curriculum Director Kay Fuller and the system’s new Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Pam Baldwin for the work done installing the new curriculum.
“They’ve had to unpack these new standards; they’ve had to sit down and spend hours upon hours revamping our curriculum from what it was to where it’s going to be, and we’ve had no choice in that,” Stout said on Monday. “The state has said that this is going to happen, this is part of the Race to the Top funds that we have received, you’ve inherited this. This is something that we’ve had no control over, so what our staff has done is remarkable. Actually, compared to where we are among many other systems in the state, we’re far ahead in terms of preparing our students.”
Fuller said that the school system’s curriculum department has fully prepared teachers to instruct in accordance with the new Common Core and Essential Standards
“I spent all last Thursday with our world history teachers, and the other folks in our department are doing the same thing,” said Fuller. “We’ve been out to the schools, meeting with the teachers, calling teachers in to make sure that what they are ready to do this fall meets the Common Core and the N.C. Essential Standards expectations.”
Although Scotland County teachers and administrators do not yet know exactly what the new state benchmark assessments will look like, high school teachers have prepared their curriculums through the first semester of the coming school year. Teachers in K-6 grade classes have planned through the first nine week grading period.
“I believe when children come to school, they’ll have the instruction that they need,” said Stout. “Where we’ll end up at the end of the year we’ll know exactly when the baseline data tells us and we’ll be able to attack it from there, as long as we stay positive about it and what we can do. We can always be negative about it and say that this program isn’t worth two cents, but guess what - it’s here, and we’ve got to make it work.” Also new this year for those high school students with their sights on attending college, all juniors will be required to take the ACT, a college entrance exam.
“The ACT is a new way of doing things for us in terms of college entrance,” Stout said. “We’ve been known as an SAT county and state for so long, but the state has changed directions on us and all of our children are going to be required to take the ACT.”
While accepted by all of North Carolina’s public colleges and universities, the ACTs is a markedly different test from the SAT.
“The SAT is a test of your cognitive abilities, so to speak - it has a verbal component and a math component, and it is about critical thinking and problem-solving,” said Fuller, who presented the board with the average scores of Scotland County high school students who took the ACT last year. “It also has a writing component. The ACT is more of an achievement type test… what you have to be able to do is read, comprehend, and apply.” Scotland County students who took the ACT averaged a composite score of 17. The state average composite score was 18 in 2011-2012. Scotland County’s average English score was 14, with average math scores of 18, average reading scores of 17, and average science scores of 17. The ACT is scored on a scale of 1-36 for each section. College readiness benchmark scores for the ACT, as evaluated by ACT, Inc., are 18 in English, 22 in math, 21 in reading, and 24 in science. As the ACT is marketed as being in alignment with the Common Core, Fuller said that teaching the curriculum should bring about an improvement in ACT scores.
Fuller also presented data chronicling five years of test scores on End of Course and End of Grade examinations for all schools in the district. The numbers showed improvement overall.
Reading proficiency numbers rose among students in the elementary and middle school grades, with 67 percent tested as proficient in 2011-2012 over 47 percent in 2007-2008.
“As we already know, we have issues with literacy, but we are improving,” Fuller said.
In math, 86 percent of elementary and middle school students were tested proficient, over 69 percent five years ago.
“Our elementary math data - we are knocking the socks off of that in comparison to a lot of the LEAs and in comparison to the state data,” said Fuller. “Our average for grades three through five is 86 percent, which is very, very good, and we range in almost all schools in the 80 to 90 percentile range.
Fifth and eighth grade students were tested in science in the last year, with 71 percent of students in both grades scoring at or above proficiency.
“The new testing is not going to be as detail-specific in science as it is going to be application-specific, so we hope that that’s going to help us across the board in science,” Fuller said.
In other business, the board approved a raise for the school system’s part-time food service employees. The school system currently employees 38 substitute employees in food service, who work less than 30 hours a week, primarily during lunchtime. “We need most of our employees when we’re serving lunch, we need all of then when we’re preparing lunch,” said Child Nutrition Director Richard Jacobs. “We can’t have an employee in for more than 30 hours a week when we only need them for five hours a day.”
Substitute employees currently make minimum wage, and the board approved a 50 cent hourly raise for returning substitutes.
“We’ve estimated based on last year’s substitute hours, if everything remains the same, this will be about a $14,000 increase in our total labor for the year,” said Jacobs. “That’s something that we feel we can afford and it’s something that’s overdue.”