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Feelings were mixed as Nelson County Board members discussed the district’s recent ACT results at a working session Thursday.
Board members were elated to hear that Thomas Nelson High School students scored well above the state average. But they were disappointed to learn Nelson County High School students fared below the state average on the test.
In terms of the ACT, Thomas Nelson scored above the state average in all benchmarks — what a student needs to score above to be considered college and career ready, while Nelson County scored below the state average in all subject areas.
According to Superintendent Anthony Orr, the overall ACT composite score for TNHS was 20, while NCHS’ was 18.5, two-tenths below the school’s composite score in 2012. The district’s overall composite score was 19.1, one-tenth below the state average.
Nelson County Schools is a “hair behind the state average,” Orr said to board members during Thursday’s work session. “It breaks my heart. We’ve got potential … We would be ahead of the state average if Nelson County High School’s scores weren’t where they are. But it is what it is. Nelson County’s composite went down two-tenths of a point, instead of going up.”
Orr noted that the scores only represent how the district’s 382 11th graders performed on the ACT in March 2013.
But Orr said he didn’t want Nelson County’s scores to overshadow Thomas Nelson’s achievement.
“While we’re going to work to see further improvements in both schools, I don’t want to take away from what Thomas Nelson accomplished,” he said. “They set a high bar.”
Board members asked Orr how Nelson County students scored so low on the test, when the district has several procedures in place to ensure students are college and career ready.
Orr noted that he’s excited to see how this year’s juniors will perform on the ACT because this class “blew the doors off” the PSAT last year.
“I expect to see good things,” he said.
“We had to have known by January that some Nelson County juniors were not going to test well,” said board member Nicky Rapier. “What are we doing as board members and senior staff to prevent this from happening?”
Orr said he was aware “things were not happening at one of our schools that should’ve been happening.”
He said he had multiple conversations with individuals to make sure things would change, so in the end, the district made a change.
Former NCHS Principal Eric Gilpin’s contract was not renewed after the 2012-13 school year.
Orr noted that he’s excited to see what new NCHS Principal Michelle Hendricks, whom he describes as a go-getter, will accomplish this school year.
He said she is already addressing the ACT scores.
Hendricks replaced Eric Gilpin as NCHS principal in May and is the third principal at the school since 2009.
“Ms. Hendricks has been impressive across the board,” Orr said. “She’s got great experience as an assistant principal. She brings a lot of energy and knowledge about curriculum to the work.”
Board members agreed ACT scores need to improve at Nelson County High School.
There are “two varied results. We’re excited about one and unhappy with the other,” Rapier said. “We hope we’re not in the same situation next year.”
Board member Diane Berry agreed.
“It’s disappointing to me,” Berry said of NCHS’ ACT scores. “Where did it go wrong? … Something got screwed up somewhere, it’s so disappointing.”
Improving test scores
During Thursday’s meeting, Orr outlined several initiatives the district is developing to ensure that all students will become college and career ready by the time they graduate.
To ensure that ACT scores will continue to improve, Orr said Nelson County Schools has been working to make core curriculum a priority, as well as develop pacing guides and develop common assessments.
“We have to own this all the way back to preschool,” Orr said. “It is not a high school issue alone.”
The district also plans to evaluate the rigor of courses by identifying ACT-like content in the classroom, restructure the job duties of instructional coaches and hold district walkthroughs to assess the rigor and relevance of instruction.
According to Orr, pacing guides will be used to make sure teachers know what they should be covering in the classroom and how quickly.
Common assessments are also being developed to evaluate the pacing of the curriculum and to ensure that it is on track.
“Thomas Nelson had common assessments in place that Nelson County did not,” Orr said, noting that this school year, the same common assessment would be used at Nelson County High School.
Orr said the plan is to assess students on a quarterly basis, equaling to one assessment every nine weeks.
“We will get everyone on the same page as to what we need to accomplish,” he said.
The common assessment will not dictate how teachers will operate their classroom; it will ensure that the same material is being taught.
“It’s the same test to make sure we’re all covering the same material and doing interventions to the same material,” he said. By using the assessment, the district “is not telling teachers ‘you have to teach this a certain way.’ But the content is going to be good and solid.”
In order to prepare students to become college and career ready, Orr said Nelson County Schools also plans to implement guidance activities based on the students’ career and college aspirations.
For instance, Orr said the district is developing a college and career academy initiative at Horizons Academy. He hopes to have the program piloted by Christmas.
“We’re developing a program where students have opportunities to get into the workforce even while they’re in school,” Orr said.
Similar to an internship, students would work with businesses to see if a certain career path is something they want to pursue.
Another area the district is helping students become college and career ready is Operation Preparation, which Orr said is when business officials talk to students in the eighth and tenth grade and explain what those students need to do to thrive in a certain career path.
Overall, Orr told board members during Thursday’s work session that he’s confident Nelson County Schools will have even higher test scores next year.
“I’m telling you I believe our district will be one of the fastest growing districts in terms of (academic achievement),” Orr said to board members.