On Georgia’s main scorecard of school performance, the College and Career Ready Performance Index, the Bulloch County Schools’ overall gains for 2016-2017 exceeded the average improvement for school systems statewide by one-tenth of a point.
Overall, the county school system’s composite CCRPI score, 73.1, remained 1.9 points below the statewide score of 75.0.
“So while we’re still lagging behind the state just a little on our overall score, we are closing the gap a little bit,” Noralee Edwards, director of data support for Bulloch County Schools, told the Board of Education this week.
Although below the mean, the Bulloch County Schools’ score was a little above the median, placing 101st of the 208 school systems included in the reports.
CCRPI scores aren’t test scores, although the index does rely heavily on the Georgia Milestones tests, including end-of-grades tests in third through eighth grades and tests of certain courses in high school.
To a lesser extent, graduation rates, attendance and student participation in career and graduation preparation programs figure in schools’ index scores. The CCRPI also factors in improvement on the tests and the success of students with disabilities, from low-income homes or with English as a second language. All of the scores are on a 100-point scale.
If the CCRPI can be relied on, Bulloch did best by its students closest to graduation, with a composite high school CCRPI of 78.0, exceeding by one point the average statewide high school score of 77.0. The county system’s three high schools, together, ranked 81st among 191 school districts with high schools included in the results.
Portal Middle High School’s middle and high school components are scored separately, giving the system in effect 16 component schools for CCRPI purposes, although it has only 15 campuses.
“Portal High School,” after a 2.3-point improvement over the previous year, was the highest scoring local high school this year. Its 79.6 CCRPI ranked 178th among the scores of 447 Georgia high schools.
Southeast Bulloch Middle School, with a CCRPI of 81.1, remained the county’s highest performing middle school, despite a tiny 0.8 drop from an 81.9 score in 2015-16.
With a CCRPI of 79.5, Brooklet Elementary also held on as the highest performing elementary school, despite a decline of 2.1 from its previous score of 81.6.
So, Bulloch’s top-performing schools at each level exceeded the state average CCRPIs of 72.9 for elementary schools, 73.0 for middle schools and 77.0 for high schools.
But Edwards, presenting the scores with a slide show Thursday night, focused on the schools that showed improvement, as did Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson.
Eight of the 16 component schools posted gains, while the other eight, including some that were already higher-performing schools, had declines ranging in size from 0.8 to 6.2 points. But gains by the two most-improved schools were significantly larger than any of the decreases.
While showing a chart of the elementary schools’ performance, Edwards spoke of “just tremendous growth” at Portal Elementary and Mattie Lively Elementary.
Portal Elementary’s gain of 10.2 points, from a CCRPI of 61.7 in 2015-16 to 71.9 in 2016-17, was the largest improvement by any Bulloch County school at any grade level. Mattie Lively’s score rose 8.9 points, from 63.6 the previous year to 72.5.
Sallie Zetterower Elementary posted an also substantial 5.9-point increase, to 69.1, and Julia P. Bryant Elementary a 1.1-point increase, to 78.3, Edwards noted.
Meanwhile, Statesboro High School was the Bulloch school system’s most improved high school in CCRPI, posting a 6.1-point gain to 77.7 in 2016-17, up from 71.6 the previous year. This was move up from third to second place among the high schools.
During Thursday’s meeting, Superintendent Wilson commented on the unusually rapid improvement at Portal Elementary School. He didn’t mention this background, but the school underwent a sudden change of leadership at the beginning of the 2016-17 term after the previous principal was arrested on felony charges.
“For the most part these results don’t turn around in a year,” Wilson said. “I think we did see some significant corrections at Portal Elementary because it’s a very small school, and the principal was ready, the staff was ready to jump on board. … Sometimes it’s all about the culture.”
At other schools posting big gains, for which he originally mentioned Statesboro High School and Mattie Lively Elementary School as examples, a more gradual, “systemic” change is happening, Wilson suggested. He credits a steady focus on the school improvement plans developed at each school and the work of professional learning communities, teacher teams who use testing and other data to monitor students’ progress and adjust instruction.
In follow-up comments to the Statesboro Herald, Wilson added Sallie Zetterower Elementary to his examples.
“They also experienced a significant increase, and this could likely be due to some systemic efforts at the school over the past few years,” Wilson said. “In particular, last year they made great strides with their professional learning communities and the development of common assessments.”
That, he said, is the same pattern seen at Statesboro High and Mattie Lively the past few years and at Portal Elementary last year.
Looking for patterns
“That all being said, we can't draw a line of direct relationship and we will still need to look at patterns,” Wilson added. “And none of this is meant to slight the hard work of our other schools. These schools mentioned have just made notable progress on our board's focus for continuous improvement. All of this requires a steady effort with willingness to adapt.”
Portal Elementary’s big gain moved it up from last place to fifth in CCRPI performance among the nine elementary schools. With its smaller increase, Julia P. Bryant Elementary was the second-highest performing elementary school.
Five of the elementary schools had decreases. Bulloch’s overall elementary school CCRPI increased one-half point, to 70.3, but the statewide score rose 1.2 points, to 72.9, so the local schools did not keep pace with the state at this level.
But local middle schools narrowed the gap a little. Bulloch County’s middle school CCRPI rose 1.8 points to 71.5, while the statewide average rose 1.5 points to 73.0. Of the four local middle schools, the two with lower scores showed gains, while the two higher performing schools’ scores decreased a little.
William James Middle School’s CCRPI rose 2.4 points, to 65.9, while Langston Chapel Middle School’s score increased 1.4 points, also to 65.9. Again, Southeast Bulloch Middle remained tops in CCRPI with 81.1. “Portal Middle School” scored second-highest among middle schools, with a 75.8 CCRPI despite a 2.5-point drop from the previous year.
Southeast Bulloch High School, with a CCRPI of 76.0 last year, was the only local high school that individually scored below the state average. This followed a 3.4-point drop from the previous year, 2015-16, when SEB High School, with a score of 79.4, was the county’s highest performing high school and substantially exceeded a Georgia high school average of 75.7 that year.
Edwards observed that “there have been some issues with CCRPI,” one being that the state changes it almost every year. It is slated to change again next year under Georgia’s proposed plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the overall education law enacted in December 2015.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.