New Hanover County Board of Education talks failure rates, takes no questions

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The New Hanover County Board of Education is tackling some difficult issues including failure rates with at-home instruction.

4,467 middle and high school students were failing at least one class at the end of the first grading period on October 2. That’s 35.75 percent of middle school students and 29.31 percent of high school students.

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Board members reacted when presented with the figures during their regular meeting Tuesday night.

“In a sense, we failed the community, the parents, for not letting them know in other forms outside of what we expected the teachers to communicate that this was happening,” said board member Judy Justice.

“I asked the question about what last year’s data was as opposed to this year’s data, and you saw it was about 20-25 percent more per school,” said board vice-chair David Wortman. “The only thing that’s changed between last year and this year is the kids aren’t in school.”

“For the very first time, we’re looking at the damage in graph form of what this virus has done,” said member Nelson Beaulieu.

New Hanover County Association of Educators president and Hoggard High School teacher Amanda White says remote learning is likely to blame.

“This is brand new,” White said. “A lot of students have never taken an online course, and a lot of students don’t even take one all the way through college.”

White says some students have improved since the end of the first grading period on October 2. Students didn’t even return to the classroom under hybrid learning until October 12.

“There’s been a lot of students that have gotten used to it, they’ve gotten a new routine, they’ve seen some recent success.”

For those that haven’t improved, staff is recommending the board lower graduation credit requirements from the county standard of 28 to the state minimum of 22.

They also want to make a 50/100 the lowest grade possible.

“If their child received a 50, it’s to ensure that just because they failed and they didn’t complete any work doesn’t mean they they’re going to be so far down that they can’t recover,” White said.

They are also considering bringing seniors at risk of not graduating back to school four days per week.

New Hanover County Schools declined to answer any questions during or after the meeting, instead releasing the following statement:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for school districts across the nation. New Hanover County Schools is committed to supporting students through immediate and ongoing challenges of remote learning during the pandemic, recognizing that students are navigating new learning environments, many times with fewer supports in place.

Data presented at the November Regular Board meeting indicates higher than normal failure rates among middle and high school students. Failure rates are highest among students of color, with rates at 43.87% and 41.12% respectively for Hispanic and Black students. 

The district recognizes that solutions will not be the same for every school. Initially, communication has increased from school staff to families and students and counselors have gathered student voice through focus groups on what is working and what is not working in remote learning. At the November 10 Board meeting, members of the Board of Education voted to waive portions of Board Policies 7740 Student Promotion and Accountability and 7410 Grading Systems. The district will continue to analyze data trends to identify areas of student progress and need.”

We asked board members to take questions during a break in the meeting, but this was before the presentation on failure data and board members did not want to comment.

They did not make themselves available for comment after the meeting was finished. A spokesman for New Hanover County Schools says someone will be available to take questions on Thursday.

Click here to view the agenda.

Click here to view the presentation on failure rates.

The full meeting will likely be posted to the district’s YouTube account in the coming days.