The state’s new federal accountability system yielded poor marks for several schools in Horry County last week, including Bridgewater Academy, prompting parents from that school to comment during a meeting Wednesday.
At the charter school’s board meeting, parent concerns about the school’s grade of D were aired, but they still expressed support for Bridgewater and what the school has meant for their children.
Nichole Honeycutt, who has two children and a niece attending Bridgewater, was very emotional as she addressed the board and said she wanted to understand how the school had done so poorly on the state’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Federal Accountability System. The new federal report card is a result of the state’s waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements and included Adequate Yearly Progress reports, but it assigned letter grades to schools based on weighted points totals.
The state’s waiver was approved only a few weeks before the grades were released. The system replaces the all-or-nothing, met/not met system for AYP with letter grades according to weighted point totals. An A falls between 90 and 100 points; B, 80 to 89.9; C, 70 to 79.9; D, 60 to 69.9; and F is less than 60 points.
Bridgewater’s grade was a combination of scores for its elementary grades and middle grades. The points for its elementary grades totaled 58.6, which equals a high F, but the overall school grade was brought up by a high D for the middle grades at 67.1 points.
“I love this school. It has changed my niece. It has changed my son,” Honeycutt said. “There’s no way I’m pulling my kids out … but I was a little taken aback.”
Honeycutt said she appreciated the personal attention her children receive and the fact that she doesn’t have to worry about guns in the school or bomb threats. Other parents also expressed support for Bridgewater’s mission, including board treasurer Woody Ford, who said his child had benefited from attending the school and is now in the honors program at Socastee High School.
Board Chairwoman Jennifer Walters and other board members assured the group that the test score issue would be addressed in the school’s strategic plan.
“We’re still analyzing the data to develop a plan going forward,” said Walters, who said the board wants to take a hard look at the numbers to make sure they head in the right direction. “We’re at 150 right now [for enrollment], and we have as many kids in the entire school as some schools have in one grade. If one kid gets nervous and doesn’t do well, it skews our numbers.”
Principal Steven Wilson said he did not know what the matrix was for formulating the school’s grade, and there was some debate as to whether the new system stemmed from Horry County or the state. He said staff development needed to be expanded for the school’s teachers, especially for test-taking strategies and for training in the new Common Core State Standards, and took Horry County Schools to task for not allowing Bridgewater’s teachers to participate in the district’s staff development or New Teacher Academy, although there are certain stipulations about training in the school’s contract with the district that were unavailable at press time.
Wilson also pointed out that the school has been temporarily housed at a local church for the last two years and has been without technology, which has affected student performance. That will be remedied in the upcoming school year, as Bridgewater’s staff and students will be moving into a new facility on River Landing Boulevard in Myrtle Beach as soon as it receives its state Certificate of Occupancy, hopefully next week.
Bridgewater is not the only school that was surprised by the results of the new reporting system. In Horry County Schools, a C rating went to eight schools, six of them high schools, and a D was given to Whittemore Park Middle School.
Edward Boyd, HCS chief accountability officer, said the new system uses a very different formula, which gives equal weight to each subgroup. Subgroups are divided into categories such as race, sex and students with disabilities. Boyd said for high schools, the four-year graduation rate is the highest weighted factor at 30 percent.
State report cards will be coming out in November, however, and may give a very different picture. Boyd said he expects to see better marks for some of the lower-graded schools, as the state report card gives an absolute rating based on the overall performance of the school and not on individual subgroups.
Bridgewater Academy opened in 2003 and was re-chartered last year through Horry County Schools for 10 years. The county’s other three charter schools also have contracts through the local school district. Charter schools are publicly funded and open to all students, but they operate with some autonomy from state regulations and are accountable to the Horry County school board for transparency, programs and goals.
Heather Sheehan, HCS charter school liaison, said charter schools outline their own measurable goals for student achievement in their application. If scores come in that are below expectations, she said the district will ask the school’s officials to revisit their goals and address any problems. The district also holds conferences for all principals in the fall to review data and look at their school’s direction.
Sheehan said she has been running data herself in order to see how the state’s calculations were made for the new system. The state already has received around 32 total inquiries from school districts since the information was released, according to state education spokesman Jay Ragley.
“We’re all just kind of figuring it out, and we’re getting it, but it’s a different way of thinking,” Sheehan said. “It is one of many pieces of information we use, and we have to put all of the pieces together.”
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.