Stokes County Schools’ Board of Education met Monday night in King, at Meadowbrook Academy. The board recognized Hailey Nichols, who was selected for the North Carolina High School Honors Chorus. The board also recognized Mrs. Pam Hall’s first grade class for winning Best in Show at the Stokes County Fair. Discussed at the meeting was the elimination of student exemptions from high school final exams and changes to the exams, which is legislation passed down from the state level, among other items.
Starting off the meeting was good news in the form of two recent recognitions. Mount Olive Elementary School teacher Pam Hall and her first grade class were awarded the Best in Show ribbon, as well as a first place ribbon, at the Stokes County Agricultural Fair, for a work of art the class created. Representatives from the class who accepted the recognition from the school board included first grade students Sarah Jessup and Peyton Spainhour.
West Stokes High School student Hailey Nichols was recognized by the board after being selected for the 2013 N.C. High School Honors Chorus. Each year, students from across the state audition for 176 spots and face a competitive audition process. Hailey was the only student in the system selected to join; she will perform in an honors chorus concert for the N.C. Music Educators Association Conference at the Stevens Center in Winston-Salem on Nov. 10.
On the discussion agenda was a revision to the Academic Examination Policy, regarding the Measures of Student Learning, also known as the Common Exams, which are now called the NC MSL Final Exams. Michael Sands, the Stokes County Schools’ director of testing and accountability, told the board that the assessments are now required by the state and must count as 20 percent of the final grade in high school courses. The assessment cannot be waived as part of the exam exemption policy used now. The district must decide if they will count the MSL Final Exam as part of the grade in middle school courses.
The State Board of Education determined that the final exams will have less constructed response questions, and will now be made up of mostly multiple choice questions, which will be scored by the District Accountability Office. The exam grade is based on the results of the multiple choice questions, set by a state scoring method. The constructed response portion will be sent to the North Carolina Department of Instruction for scoring, in an effort to make the scoring more consistent. Then, the constructed response scores will be merged with the district results from the multiple choice questions for the final result, which will be used as part of the Teacher Effectiveness ratings.
Board Chairman Mike Rogers, in response to the information provided about the common exams, reminded the board that the school system had problems with the tests last year, and had to curve the grades. “We now have a state revision for a revision of a test that doesn’t work, and now we are seeing that count as 20 percent of their grade? Am I missing something here? What is the rationale,?” Rogers asked. Sands said the rationale from the state was “consistency.”
“I want the people of Stokes County to realize what we are trying to do here, and how difficult these tests are,” Rogers replied. “Do we have any options out of this really, really poor decision from the state?” Sands answered that there were options, including the schools deciding to “go with school growth instead of individual teacher growth,” but the “down side is that if you have individual teachers who want their rating…you would forfeit the potential of the individual’s score.”
Rogers said that at this point they were “headed wide open towards the cliff” and was glad to be told there may be an option to look into. The board opted to leave the NC MSL Final Exam topic on the table for discussion at the next meeting. Superintendent Mendenhall said there was concern across the state about the final exams. Rogers asked that the options be put together quickly and mentioned that he would like teachers to have some input before the board makes any decisions, but reminded everyone that exams were coming quickly.
“If I have got the chance to put the brakes on this, I’m going to do it,” Rogers said. “I encourage creative thinking in the next 30 days.”
As part of the discussion agenda, the board heard a presentation of the 2012-13 financial audit of the school system. No major problems were found and any minor problems were solved immediately, with the only concern presented being a decrease in food sales. The loss of around $131,000 was not the only loss in North Carolina, as schools across the state saw a decrease in food sales this year, partly due to a change in healthy meal requirements, which came with higher food costs.
Overall, the results of the audit were positive, with findings indicating the school system is doing well for its size, but some concern was mentioned over the fund balance, which the board knows all too well after recent financial struggles.
The board also heard from Marilyn Parker, a representative for the N.C. School Board Action Center, which is a newly formed 501(c)4 organization formed by the North Carolina School Boards Association. The action center will work on behalf of its members (who must pay to join based on district enrollment) to lobby the state and provide research for current legislation that could affect school systems and boards across the state. As of right now, Parker said 41 systems had joined the action center. The Stokes County School Board is weighing their options to decide if it would be in the best interests of the school system to join.