Just think…

A whole new set of parents and administrators in a different county will have cause to despise me if they ever find out that I’m the ultimate reason they wound up with Frank Till.

The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, NC)

July 22, 2011

Fewer Cumberland County schools meet tougher federal performance standards

By Steve DeVane

Significantly fewer schools in Cumberland County hit federal performance standards this year, after the government raised the bar for passing tests.

Preliminary figures released Thursday show that 19 out of 84 county schools made adequate yearly progress, or AYP, under the federal No Child Left Behind law. That’s about 23 percent of schools, well below last year’s 58 percent that made AYP.

Ron Phipps, assistant superintendent for evaluation and testing, said the higher standards made it more difficult to achieve AYP.

“You can’t compare what you did in the past to this year, because it’s a different bar,” he said.

The federal government raised the benchmark for how many students within various demographics have to pass exams in order for a school to make AYP. If one demographic fails to hit the benchmark, the entire school doesn’t make AYP.

This year, 71.6 percent of pupils in third through eighth grades had to pass reading tests to make AYP, up from a threshold of 43.2 percent last year. The target for math tests rose to 88.6 percent of students passing.

In high school, the benchmark for end-of-course English I tests was hiked more than 30 points, requiring 69.3 percent of students to pass. For math, 84.2 percent had to pass.

“On average, you might see scores up two, three or four points, but you don’t see an increase of 40 points,” Phipps said. “It’s almost impossible to make that sort of jump.”

The standards will only get tougher. The No Child Left Behind law requires a 100 percent passing rate in each area by 2013-14.

Failing to make AYP can lead to penalties. Schools with a certain number of economically disadvantaged students can face sanctions if they fail to make AYP two years in a row. Those schools have to report how they plan to improve, and some students get extra tutoring. Parents can remove their child from a school that misses AYP three years in a row.

As a system, Cumberland County achieved 62 of 78 of its overall target goals, or 79.5 percent.

“It looks worse than it is,” Phipps said. “It’s important to realize that it’s only one piece to look at in the effectiveness of a school.”

Overall passage rates for testing was up this year, according to preliminary figures released last week. Nearly 75 percent of Cumberland County students passed end-of-grade or end-of-course tests, up from 74.4 percent the year before, and 68 percent in 2008-09.

Cumberland County Superintendent Frank Till Jr. said he thinks AYP is not a good measure of school performance, even though other districts fared worse.

“I can’t get excited that we’re better than others because I think it’s a bad statistic, but I’m glad I don’t have to explain why we’re worse,” he said. He said he thinks the AYP figures tend to put negative attention on one demographic if students in that group don’t reach a target.

“Now you’re suddenly blaming a group of kids for not making a standard,” he said. “For me, I want to start celebrating where we’re going instead of blaming people.”

State Superintendent June Atkinson said she does not like the “all or nothing” structure of AYP. She said she prefers North Carolina’s ABC model, which shows school tests scores and growth levels.

“To me, it’s much more informative to the public to say 90 percent of students are at grade level and 90 percent made growth,” she said.

Atkinson wants Congress to address the issue when it re-authorizes the law, but she’s not optimistic. She said she sent a letter to the state’s congressional delegation.

Phipps, the assistant superintendent over testing in Cumberland County, said he agrees with the intent of No Child Left Behind to reach every student. But it’s difficult for schools to meet all the goals.

“It’s just a flawed system,” he said.

Only a fifth of schools in Sampson and Scotland counties made AYP this year. None of the 26 schools in Harnett County made it.

Three schools in Moore County made AYP, and seven did in Robeson County. Bladen, Columbus and Hoke counties each had only one school hit the benchmark.

Other factors in achieving APY are whether schools reduce the percentage of students who fail in each group by 10 percent or more. Phipps said a 90 percent attendance rate also is a target goal in elementary and middle schools. A graduation rate of 80 percent, or a 2 percent increase from the previous year, is a goal for high schools.

Schools also have to give tests to at least 95 percent of the students to make AYP.

Several schools in the county performed well, Phipps said.

T.C. Berrien, Cumberland Road, Cumberland Mills and W.T. Brown elementary schools raised their test scores over the past several years, he said. So did Spring Lake Middle. All five schools made AYP this year.

Thomas Benson, principal at Spring Lake, said the school tracks every student’s performance. Those who struggle will get help, he said.

“It’s a matter of the teachers working hard to prepare the students for success,” he said.

Dennis Monroe, principal at Cumberland Mills, said the staff stresses “bell-to-bell instruction.” Teachers and staff have created a positive emotional climate for students, Monroe said.

“They have to believe in themselves and have the belief that they can be successful,” he said.

Other elementary schools making AYP were Beaver Dam, Eastover-Central, District 7, Bill Hefner, E. Melvin Honeycutt, Pauline Jones, Stedman and Alger B. Wilkins.

Seventy-First Classical was the only other middle school to make AYP.

High schools making AYP were Jack Britt, Cross Creek Early College, Massey Hill Classical and Howard Health and Life Sciences.

Alpha Academy, the only charter school in Cumberland County, achieved AYP.