The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will create a new, data-driven set of long-range goals and yearly interventions to improve student performance, after receiving a troubling report that shows persistent achievement gaps and poor comparisons to state averages.
The Annual Report of Student Performance for 2015-16 was formally presented to the school board Thursday night in Lincoln Center.
One table of the report shows that, from 2014-15 to 2015-16, CHCCS only improved more than the state’s average in three out of 17 comparisons for reading, science, math, English and biology, for grades 3 through 8.
The state average was better than the district’s in 11 categories.
A composite chart of end-of-grade and end-of-course scores shows that only 31 percent of black students and 40 percent of Latino students were in the college-ready range, compared to 85 percent of white students.
A team working with Interim Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services Rydell Harrison has identified four areas of concern in the 2014-15 data, and will perform a “deep dive” into those issues to discover what’s causing them.
One big concern is that the study shows five groups of students with significant gaps between graduation rates and eligibility for UNC system colleges, based on ACT scores.
Those students include African-Americans, Latinos, students with disabilities, students that are economically disadvantaged, and students with limited English proficiency.
Among those. African-American students saw the largest gap at 41 percent, even though they graduated at 82 percent.
School board member Rani Dasi said she lost sleep the night before Thursday’s meeting, after reading the report.
“We all need to respond like we are in a crisis situation,” she said.
Dasi suggested resetting budget priorities, if needed. She agreed with board member Andrew Davidson that any resources needed to improve student outcomes must be identified well ahead of the next budget process.
Board Chair James Barrett agreed, too: “We don’t want to be a blockade.”
Harrison said the district’s new philosophy is to intervene on the school system, which differs from the older approach of intervening on students.
“We’re not fixing broken children,” he said. “We’re fixing broken systems.”
His team has already set some goals, such as setting quarterly benchmarks for science and math; and expanding Fundations, an early literacy program with an emphasis on phonics, to all K-2 classrooms.
Fundations was piloted in kindergarten classes of four CHCCS schools last year.
“When I talk to principals about expanding from kindergarten to first grade this year, there wasn’t a lot of arm-twisting that had to happen,” said Harrison. “First grade teachers saw the success of it.”
During public comments at Thursday’s meeting, audience members expressed years of frustration over the achievement gap for African-American students, as well as skepticism that effective changes will be made soon.
“What’s different?” community activist Anna Richards asked the board. “What can we point to a year from now and say, ‘Because of this, we made a difference?’”
“The big difference is that last year we looked at the data,” Harrison answered, “and this year we’re using the data.”
The news in this year’s report wasn’t all dire.
Among the highlights: Eleven of 18 schools exceeded growth in at least one subject. Morris Grove Elementary, McDougle Middle, Carrboro High and East Chapel Hill High exceeded overall growth.
And CHCCS had higher end-of-grade, end-of-course and ACT score composites for most groups of students, compared to neighboring counties Durham, Orange and Wake.