Last week, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction released the standardized test scores for the 2012- 2013 academic school year. The data uses a culmination of both standardized end-of-grade and end-of-course tests to determine the performance of area students. The results showed that both Macon and Jackson counties fall just behind the state average of 44.7.
With an overall score of 43.4, the Macon County School District fares better than neighboring Jackson County, which sits at 42.4 passing rate.
Although Macon County School District's overall average comes in below the state average, various schools within the district scored above the average including, Cartoogechaye Elementary reporting a 62.3 percent passing rate; East Franklin 45.7 percent; Highlands School 53.7 percent; Macon Early College 55.7 percent; Macon Middle 45.6; and South Macon 57 percent.
Schools falling below the state average include Franklin High School reporting a 42 percent passing rate; Iotla Valley 34.2 percent; Mountain View Intermediate 35.2 percent; Nantahala 43.6 percent; and Union Academy 5.6 percent.
In addition to performing better than Jackson County, Macon County Schools performed better than other surrounding counties such as Graham and Swain counties, but did not score as well as districts such as Haywood, Transylvania, Clay, and Cherokee.
Two of Jackson County's nine schools scored above the state average with Fairview School reporting a 49.5 percent passing rate and Jackson County Early College scoring a 68.5 percent.
Schools falling below the state average include Blue Ridge Early College with 39.2 percent; Blue Ridge School 35.5 percent; Cullowhee Valley School, 42.1 percent; Jackson County School of Alternatives, 13.3 percent; Scotts Creek School, 43.7 percent; Smokey Mountain Elementary, 31.5 percent; Smoky Mountain High School, 43.1 percent.
According to Macon County Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin, the introduction and implantation of the new common core curriculum has proved to be a challenging transition of students and stands to hold part of the blame for the low test scores, but in time will end up being for the betterment of the students. “Our students are learning a new curriculum that is more rigorous and their learning is being measured by more rigorous exams,” said Baldwin. “I am excited about the new curriculum because it focuses more attention on critical thinking skills and better prepares students for college and careers. All of us, administrators, teachers, students and parents will be required to work very hard to teach and learn the new standards. I am confident that Macon County will improve in relation to other school systems in North Carolina.”
Jackson County Superintendent Michael Murray also attributed the test scores to the new curriculum. "Keep in mind that the state test results that were released represent a much higher standard than we have had in North Carolina. I certainly will not try to make excuses for them being lower than average but we did anticipate they would be lower because these goals represent the new state model, NC READY, that focuses on ensuring that our students are career and college ready when they graduate from high school," said Murray. "The previous standards, were in the ABC model, which basically focused attention on the fundamentals students needed to be successful at the next grade level or in the next course. Whenever you set higher standards, which we have done every five years or so, then lower scores are expected as you set a baseline."
With a year under their belts with the newly established state standards, Baldwin believes improvements will be seen in coming months. “Our teachers spent most of the year last year preparing for the new standards,” said Baldwin. “They spent a lot of time after school and on weekends to provide students with lessons that were aligned with the new curriculum. I am confident that as we improve our understanding of the new curriculum and continue to align our lessons and assessments with the state exams our scores will improve.”
Murray wants to see Jackson County continue to place a strong emphasis on the new standards and focus on transitioning teaching methods. "The improvements that will be made is a stronger focus on the core curriculum and essential standards that we just started last year," said Murray. "We are enhancing student interventions so that we can individualize instruction for student learning. We are currently also working on a Quest Grant for our school system that will possibly fund additional staff development for our middle school aged children and should allow more higher level questioning strategies with that age group. These newer standards will take us closer to ensuring that our goals are being reached."
Baldwin believes a key component in student success falls to parent involvement. “Involving parents more in the instructional process has been shown to improve test results,” said Baldwin. “Teachers are expected to communicate early and often with parents regarding student progress. I also strongly encourage parents to get involved in their child's learning. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction's website has very useful information for parents.”
Baldwin is adamant that in time, the new standards and requirements will benefit all students across the state. “Every school system in the state is being challenged by the new curriculum,” said Baldwin. “Other states are also experiencing the same challenges. We have the best students and teachers found anywhere and I know that we will rise to the challenge and our scores will improve.”
Putting an emphases on the majority of schools that while below state average, still met or exceeded academic growth goals, Murray wants to continue challenging students and encouraging further advancements. "More than 71 percent of Jackson County Public Schools met or exceeded academic growth goals expectations in the 2012-13 school year," he said. "Last year was a transitional year and these recently released results will not affect student’s grades or current placement nor will there be any school accountability labels or designations. All of our schools will be strongly supporting student success."