KENANSVILLE — For the fourth consecutive year, Duplin County Schools has seen an increase in its cohort graduation rate. According to the accountability results released Sept. 1 by the State Board of Education, Duplin County Schools hit its highest mark to date at 86%. This represents an increase from 84.2% in 19-20, 83.8% in 18-19, and 81.3% in 17-18.

Duplin County is less than 1% shy of matching the state graduation rate of 86.9%.

“Despite the circumstances of last school year, Duplin County Schools has once again attained a record Cohort Graduation Rate,” said Superintendent Dr. Austin Obasohan. “This is a true testament to the unprecedented hard work and commitment of our entire DCS family as we navigated, persevered and adapted through many unknowns. Our talented staff, amazing students and families, our community, faith-based and business partners are stronger and more united than ever. The vision, leadership, and support of our Board of Education sets the stage for our ultimate goal of graduating 100% of our students prepared and ready for career or college. Our personalized STEAMA pathways and powerful teaching and learning have and will continue to make a difference in the success of our students.”

However, the totality of the statewide results for the 2020-21 school year was undeniably impacted by the formidable challenges that schools and districts across North Carolina faced during one of the most severe disruptions to public education the state and nation have ever confronted. While the outcomes are predictably lower than the last time students were tested in 2018-19, it is imperative to note that the performance data cannot be objectively compared to prior years nor should it be used to evaluate effort or efficacy of teachers and students amid a global pandemic.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Catherine Truit, concurs. “We need to remember these results are only a snapshot of a year marked by extreme anomalies and extenuating circumstances. To treat these scores as though they are valid indicators of future success or performance would not only be an improper use of these data, but also would be a disservice to our students, teachers, and administrators. As advised by the U.S. Department of Education, these data are not valid for making accountability determinations but should instead be used to make student-centered decisions around planning for resources and establishing next steps.”

Truit states the results are meant to provide information to parents, educators and the public about student performance and to help design and deploy resources and supports to districts.

One such endeavor is the launching of the Office of Learning Recovery and Acceleration whose goal is to make up for learning losses and simultaneously accelerate the pace of learning for all students.

Eric Davis, chairman of the State Board of Education echoes Truit’s sentiments. “These results show the resilience of our students and dedication of our teachers and others to persevere despite many disruptions to learning. The scores should not be interpreted to indicate deficiencies in student learning or our teachers’ abilities to teach. These scores are one of many tools we will use to continue to develop instructional plans to meet the academic needs of each and every student.”

In consideration of the disruptions caused by COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Education has waived accountability requirements for many states, including North Carolina. Additionally, Governor Roy Cooper and the N.C. General Assembly have waived the calculation and reporting of A-F school performance grades as well as growth indicators. Consequently, schools identified during the 2018-19 school year for Comprehensive Support and Improvement and for Targeted Support and Improvement will retain that status for the current school year.

Student achievement data for the 2020-21 school year is based on analysis of all end-of-grade (EOG) and end-of-course (EOC) tests, which are aligned to the North Carolina Standard Course of Study in English Language Arts and Mathematics and the Essential Standards in Science.

Whereas previously all tests had five academic achievement levels, student performance will now be reported using four academic achievement levels: Level 5 — Comprehensive Understanding, Level 4 — Thorough Understanding, Level 3 — Sufficient Understanding, and Not Proficient — Inconsistent Understanding. The one exception to this is Grade 3 Reading, which will be reported on five achievement levels due to Read to Achieve requirements.

Other data reported includes ACT, WorkKeys, and participation. Although participation is reported, the 95% required participation rate was part of the federal waiver afforded to North Carolina. Duplin County Schools, however, remained committed to this aspect of testing and achieved greater than the 95% threshold. Dr. Obasohan wishes to thank all school administrators, teachers, school social workers and guidance counselors for their successful efforts in staying connected with students and keeping them involved during the many modes of instruction encountered last year.

Dr. Obasohan concludes by saying, “As we savor the bright spots and lessons learned over the past year, it is time to focus forward as we promise to work tirelessly to make up any lost ground and provide our students the world class education they deserve.”

Further details regarding Duplin County Schools’ data for the 2020-21 school year will be presented at the September 7th Board of Education meeting.

Ena Sellers may be reached at esellers@ncweeklies.com