Struggling Richmond County students build skills in summer sessions

By: By Christine S. Carroll - [email protected]

HAMLET — Filling the gap between spring and fall with targeted learning also seems to fill the proficiency gap for hundreds of Richmond County students.

In the summer weeks just past, rising first- through 12th-graders completed five days to two weeks of remedial math, reading and science lessons, aiming to boost mastery of those subjects — what is called “demonstrating proficiency” in school lingo.

And here comes the good part.

“In general, most of our schools saw a 2 (percentage point) to 3 percentage point increase” in proficiency scores as a result of that summer instruction, Cynthia Magee told school board members earlier this week. Magee compiles student-performance data for the district.

“That doesn’t seem like a tremendous amount,” Magee said then, but it might be enough to boost the grades for a number of schools when statewide “report cards” come out in October.

That is good news, especially for a county whose students traditionally have performed below statewide levels.

In 2015-16, 87.5 percent of Richmond County schools met or exceeded expectations for growth in student skills: seven schools met expectations and seven exceeded them. That’s 4.2 percentage points below the state average. In 2012-13, Richmond County schools scored 11.5 percentage points below the statewide average.

Since 2013, when North Carolina implemented READY — a statewide assessment that increased difficulty levels for math, reading and science — Richmond County also has risen from 33.2 percent to 54.1 percent of students demonstrating proficiency.

North Carolina tests students in reading and math (grades three through eight); science (grades five through eight); and English 2, biology and Math 1 (high school). How many students pass end-of-year or end-of-course tests goes a long way toward school “grades.” The ranking system uses student achievement (80 percent) and growth (20 percent) to determine how well schools are doing.

So how can just a few days in the summer deliver test scores that a 180-day school year did not?

“It was … just the environment,” said Donna Gephart, curriculum director of K-12 English and social studies for the district. “We were able to refine skills and really target what we thought kids needed. Even though they’re doing work, it just feels different.

“Our kids enjoy summertime learning.”

Classes ran four days a week, were much smaller than average and included a variety of hands-on learning, Gephart said Thursday.

Of course, “the best instruction” occurred during the school year, said Kelly DeLong, curriculum director of K-12 math and science. What summer instruction does is build competence.

The state does not require summer remediation, but it is something that has proved effective for Richmond County. Data show that students attending remedial sessions don’t experience the “summer slip” in their skills, Gephart said.

Having several hundred children show up voluntarily for summer instruction also demonstrates parents’ commitment, said Ruth Burgin, director of professional development for the district: “The parents want their kids to do well.”

Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.

By Christine S. Carroll

[email protected]