Blackstock says state grades show Dare schools closing COVID learning gap

By on September 14, 2022

(Dare County Schools)

Individual school grades include four Bs, 5 Cs, and one D

The Dare County School District is making up learning ground lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the most recent 2021-2022 school performance grades released earlier this month by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI).

“I believe that what this data shows us is that we are closing most of the COVID gap,” Interim Superintendent Steve Blackstock told the Dare County Board of Education during its Sept. 13 meeting. Regarding the recent data released by the state, he noted that every school in the district had increased its proficiency on standardized test scores and other indicators used to determine school performance grades.

“It’s been a rough twenty-eight months,” Blackstock said at the conclusion of his Sept. 13 presentation. “And Dare County Schools has very quickly made up a lot of that gap and I think…we are on track to meet that by the end of this year and be back to where we were before.”

The report cards, issued every fall by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, have long been used as a tool in assessing school performance — and beginning in 2013, the state also began handing out letter grades, with 80 percent of the grade based primarily on standardized testing results. The remaining 20 percent is based on student growth, which is determined by comparing the actual performance of a school’s students to their expected performance based on a statewide statistical model.

This year marks the first year since the 2018-2019 school year that NCDPI has released a full school accountability report due to pandemic disruptions.

Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic learning loss resulted in a 28 percent drop in proficiency in Dare County, according to limited data released by the state last year – a figure Blackstock said was on par with other districts across the state. But the recently released data, he said, reveals that the gap has now shrunk to just over 10 percent.

“Some of them might have a letter grade of a B or a C, or in one case a D, but all of those schools increased their proficiency this year,” he told the board. “That’s a great feat for normal times, but it is certainly a big win when we are still in the middle of pandemic-related learning.”

One school, the interim superintendent said, stood out on the recent report cards. First Flight Middle School not only significantly exceeded growth expectations, but also improved its overall School Performance Grade to B, the highest mark it has received since the inception of the scores in 2013.

The rate of growth at FFMS, he said, “is the highest growth you can get out of a group of students.”

Of Dare County’s 10 schools, five of them exceeded growth, indicating that students made significantly more progress than similar students across the state. Those five schools are Cape Hatteras Elementary School, First Flight Middle School, Kitty Hawk Elementary School, Manteo Middle School and Nags Head Elementary School.

Four schools met growth, including Cape Hatteras Secondary School, First Flight High School, Manteo Elementary School and Manteo High School.

Four schools – First Flight Middle, First Flight High, Kitty Hawk Elementary and Manteo High – earned Bs. Cape Hatteras Elementary, Manteo Middle, Nags Head Elementary, Cape Hatteras Secondary and First Flight Elementary earned Cs.

Report cards for two schools indicated problem areas. First Flight Elementary did not meet growth expectations and while Manteo Elementary School met growth over the prior school year, it received a D grade.

“We have schools in our district that had great success last year and schools in the district that have struggled,” Blackstock said. “Every school has got things to celebrate and every school in our district has got things that they need to work on.”

In an email response to questions posed by the Voice, Blackstock said the fact that five Dare County schools exceeded growth represented “a major accomplishment,” adding that across the state, only about 25 percent of schools earned that distinction in 2021-2022

He told the Voice that the district has leveraged COVID relief funding to provide specialized staff to work with students and teachers to close the COVID gap and that the key to improving proficiency and growth lies in a solid school improvement plan.

“District administration will work closely with all of our schools to ensure that they have strong plans in place to sustain their success and make improvements,” he said. Blackstock added that district administrators will analyze the data from the report cards so they can help teachers target specific skills, subjects, or students most negatively affected during the pandemic.

“We will do everything we can to provide the support needed, especially to schools most affected by the pandemic,” he told the Voice. “I have great confidence in the leadership and staff at both FFES [First Flight Elementary] and MES [Manteo Elementary] and expect them to very quickly mitigate these COVID-related challenges.”





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