By Dave Russell
The N.C. Department of Public Instruction sent report cards out earlier this month, assigning schools in all 115 districts letter grades and looking at indicators of success or failure for the 2021-22 school year.
In the school performance grades for Jackson County Public Schools, Jackson County Early College (85) was the only A, Smoky Mountain High School (70) the only B. Fairview Elementary (64) and Blue Ridge Early College (55) brought home C’s and Blue Ridge School (51), Cullowhee Valley Elementary (54), Scotts Creek Elementary (53) and Smokey Mountain Elementary (46) earned D’s.
“Technically, four schools received D’s, but only three schools are coded as low-performing because one of those schools (SMES) exceeded their growth status, meaning they are not low-performing,” JCPS Testing and Accountability Director Adam Holt said.
Letter grades are calculated on the following scale: 85-100 = A, 70-84 = B, 55-69 = C, 40-54 = D, and less than 40 = F.
SMES, BRS and BREC were on the D list for the 2018-19 school year. Only SMES made a D in 2017-18; BRS and BREC had C’s that school year.
For elementary and middle-grade schools, the scores are 80 percent the results of standardized tests, such as the end-of-grade and end-of-course assessments. The remaining 20 percent reflects how much students have learned year-over-year, considered academic growth.
High school grades are 80 percent based on standardized test results, graduation rates, ACT (American College Test) results, ACT WorkKeys (real life applications of knowledge) results and the number of students who pass Math III. The remaining 20 percent reflects academic growth.
State law holds that low-performing schools have a school improvement plan in place.
Every school in the county has an improvement plan in place and registered with the state already, Holt said.
The letter grades don’t give a complete snapshot of the school system’s progress, he said.
For Holt, the most positive aspect of the report for JCPS is the increase in growth the county schools showed.
Student growth is the measure of academic progress that students make over the course of a grade or class.
Growth is measured via multiple assessments and processes to measure student learning.
• End-of-Grade and End-of-Course assessments for grades 3-8.
• Career and Technical Education State Assessments for career and technical education courses.
• N.C. Final Exams for courses and subjects in grades 4-12 when an End-of-Grade or End-of-Course assessment is not administered.
• K-3 Checkpoints for measuring students’ reading skill development in grades K-3.
Eight of the nine JCPS schools met or exceeded school growth status. SCES, JCEC and SMHS exceeded school growth status.
SCES ranked fifth out of 191 schools in the Western Region for overall school growth.
Growth is based on the performance of all the schools across the state, with COVID-19 impeding North Carolina students pretty much equally, Holt said.
“Every school would have had those same barriers due to COVID, so having the growth be higher for our school system, especially the schools that exceeded, means we have bounced back a little bit more than some of the other school systems across the state, which is huge,” Holt said.
JCEC is one of three schools in the Western region to have greater than 95 percent of students meet the ACT Composite of 19 or higher (52 schools in the Western region). It is one of seven schools statewide, out of 629 total schools.
The county graduation rate sits at 90.2, ranking 21st out of 115 districts in the state.
SMHS graduates 90.1 percent of its students, BRES and JCEC more than 95 percent.
All six JCPS elementary schools met or exceeded growth status for math.
CVES, FES and SCES exceeded growth for math, BRS, BRES and SMES met math school growth status. SCES is ranked fourth of 146 schools in the Western region for math school growth.
All six JCPS elementary schools met school growth for reading.
Jackson Community School is graded on the alternative accountability model, and growth is not part of the included metrics. The graduation rate at JCS is 76.1.
Education is about more than numbers.
“Test data and school report card grades are an important factor that public schools are measured on,” JCPS Superintendent Dana Ayers said. “However, those aren’t the only pieces of data for meauring success. Aside from the negative impacts of the pandemic, we have worked hard to teach and instill resiliency, social-emotional instruction and coping skills with all students. None of these factors can be easily assessed but will certainly impact and exhibit academic success over time.”