Polk County rises to the top of the class

Published 8:00 am Friday, September 14, 2018

School district ranks first in recent state test score results

COLUMBUS — After spending the last several years as the state’s salutatorian, Polk County Schools has finally risen to the top of the North Carolina class.

Polk County was recently ranked as the highest performing district in the state for the 2017-2018 school year, with 76.1 percent of all students meeting grade level proficiency on the North Carolina end-of-course and end-of-grade examinations. In addition to being the top ranked district overall, Polk County Schools also received the top place in fourth-grade math scores (with 79.6 percent of students meeting grade level proficiency), sixth-grade math scores (81.3 percent), and fourth through sixth-grade English language arts (77.4, 77.5 and 87.3 percent, respectively).

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David Scherping, Polk County Schools’ technology/accountability director, presented the test results to the board of education earlier this week, with leaders and members of the audience giving the news a round of applause.

The 2017-2018 results finally put Polk County on top other districts in the state. For the past two years, the local school system had fallen just shy of the top rank, coming in second to Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, Scherping said.

“I think it is absolutely amazing what [students and staff] have been able to do,” said Chairman Geoffrey Tennant about this year’s results. “It’s indictive of the type of education professionals that we have and paraprofessionals that we have — and it’s also a pretty dang good indicator of the kind of family commitment we have, as far as education is concerned. Parents seem to be demanding of us something beyond the mean for all kids, which I feel really good about.”

In addition to the test results, all seven county schools received a “B” grade from the North Carolina Board of Education, making the district just one of two — along with Elkin City Schools — to have all its buildings receive scores no lower than 80 percent. Each school’s grade reflects a weighted average of the percentage of students scoring at or above proficient on end-of-course and end-of-grade exams (80 percent) and the percentage of students reaching expected growth levels (20 percent).

Polk Central Elementary exceeded its school growth rate — the expected score from students based on their performance the previous year — with a 3.45 index score, which Scherping said demonstrated amazing growth. The other six buildings all met their growth expectations from the state.

Scherping pointed out several areas where the district has room for improvement, though. Polk County Schools placed outside the top 10 in eighth-grade English language arts (in 14th place, with 62.3 percent of students meeting grade level proficiency) and High School English II (in 21st place, with 64.7 percent).

Superintendent Aaron Greene credited the district’s students, staff, parents, community — and Scherping, who has created innovative ways to track student performance that other districts have since adopted — for their successes. Greene also said that Polk County Schools’ smaller class sizes has given the district a unique advantage.

“There are very few districts around our state that have the class sizes we have, period,” Greene said. “Having those strong relationship with kids and knowing what they need, how to support them, is absolutely huge.”

Scherping also praised the students and staff for their success, saying that Polk County Schools is “doing something special.” The growth has been tremendous for the accountability director to witness in particular as, when he first moved to the area in 1992, the district was one of the worst performing districts in the state, consistently ranked near the bottom.

“When I tell people about [these results] sometimes, they say ‘be ready for the researchers to come study you, as they’re gonna want to know what you’re doing here,’” said board member Rhonda Corley.