Superintendent Cindy Goodman has been traveling from one Richmond County school to another this fall, preaching good news and redemption.
That’s because during the past five years, local schools have made steady progress in both student proficiency and growth, according to NC READY accountability figures released this month by the state’s Department of Public Instruction.
“Our challenges are difficult,” Goodman said Tuesday morning, discussing the figures in depth. “We have a lot of children who are not performing on grade level, but we’re headed in the right direction.”
Richmond County schools don’t meet or surpass state standards yet, but in five years, they have moved from an 11.5 percentage-point margin to 3.6, even as their target moved further away.
For the 2016-17 school year, the performance gap was 55.6 of Richmond County students meeting standards, compared to 59.2 percent of students statewide.
Individually, every Richmond County school but one — Rohanen Middle School, now Cordova Middle — also met or exceeded its individual performance goals for 2016-17, earning them legislatively imposed grades of “A” to “D.” No Richmond County school earned an “F.” Two were ineligible for grading.
The schools district’s composite performance places it dead center of 15 districts in the Sandhills Region — at 55.6 percent, compared to 65.9 for top-performing Sampson County Schools, down to 39.5 for Robeson. Anson and Scotland counties fared worse — at Nos. 14 and 10, respectively. Moore County was No. 2.
But the truly good news comes not from performance but from growth — a measure not of students’ proficiency in a subject but how far they have moved toward proficiency. The lower a student starts, the more growth she can demonstrate.
It’s a difficult distinction for some to grasp — federal education Secretary Betsy DeVos notoriously flubbed a question on the difference between proficiency and growth at her Senate confirmation hearing — but to educators in a sometimes-underperforming district, strong growth is hallelujah inducing.
At No. 1, Richmond County performs better than all other Sandhills districts in the percentage of schools meeting or exceeding growth standards. Neighboring Scotland County stands at No. 13, and Anson County, at No. 2. Wealthy Moore County stands at No. 8 in percentage of growth.
“This is meaningful, powerful,” Goodman said: Growth demonstrates educators’ effectiveness.
“Growth is a measure of what we do with kids from the first day of school to the last,” she said. “(It’s) how we have moved those kids.”
Proficiency, she said, gets a boost from a child’s home environment. Whether he reads, whether his parents read, whether he has two parents — all those factors bode well for a child’s educational performance. Children from higher-income homes tend to perform better because their parents are likely to stress educational attainment.
In Richmond County, higher-income households are relatively rare, and fewer than 20 percent of eligible residents have college degrees.
Every Richmond County elementary and middle school is a Title 1 school — a government designation that means most of the children in those schools are from low-income families. Generally, most children in Title 1 schools receive free or reduced-price lunches, and Title 1 schools tend to perform poorly against those with more resources.
In Richmond County, all elementary and middle-school students eat free lunches. Because the eligibility rate for such lunches is so high — 80 percent — the county is said to have “community eligibility.”
What this year’s NC READY figures show is that most Richmond County schools, though maybe not as rich as some others in the state, can perform at or above standards they have set for themselves under the watchful eye of the state.
Which makes Goodman declare that everyone in the district should celebrate because “we do more with less.”
“We’re doing really good things in Richmond County Schools,” she said, enthusiastically. “We’re a plus in recruiting” businesses and people to the county. “People should want their kids to go to our schools.”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.