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Carteret County high schoolers earn highest test scores in NC

Posted January 14, 2020 5:00 a.m. EST

This article was written for our sponsor, Crystal Coast Economic Development Foundation.

The North Carolina State Board of Education released its annual School Performance Grade Accountability report in September, revealing the number one test scores weren't coming from big cities like Charlotte or Raleigh, but from students who live at the coast.

According to the report, Carteret County public high school students earned the top end-of-grade and end-of-course test scores in the state. It also showed more than 88 percent of the district's schools received an A or B grade, which is based on a school's achievement scores on reading and math tests combined with the academic growth rate of its students.

"We do really well with our test scores," said Carteret County Schools Superintendent Mat Bottoms. Bottoms has been an educator in Carteret County for almost 40 years — the beach drew him to the Crystal Coast, but the students are one of the things that made him stay.

"All three of our high schools are in the top 15 out of almost 400 high schools in the state — there's no other district that's done this," he said.

When people think of high-performing school districts, large metro districts such as Wake County Public Schools and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools usually come to mind. But the Carteret County Public School System is proof that students at the Crystal Coast excel even more.

Bottoms noted that when it comes to test scores, Carteret County's competition is usually Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, a district he said is located in the "mecca of education."

"They're a great school system and we feel that we're in good company when we say their name with ours. But we're doing the same thing here and doing it well," Bottoms beamed.

Bottoms noted Carteret County's smaller class sizes and its strong commitment to the basics — reading, writing and mathematics — as reasons behind the school district's success.

"We also have a fourth component — relationships. I think that's what makes us unique; — the relationships that teachers, administrators and staff have with our kids and our families," Bottoms said. "Carteret County is a small community, and the relationships we have with our students are very tight knit. We don't mind calling home when a student is struggling in class."

When it comes to instruction, high school students are on a block schedule with 90-minute classes, and teachers are encouraged to use every second of that instruction time.

"We want our teachers to teach from bell to bell. We expect teachers to do that and expect students to be engaged. It's hard for students to be attentive for 90 minutes. That's why teachers have to be creative in how they're going to do that — you can't stand in front of kids and bore them to death," Bottoms explained. "It puts a lot of pressure on our teachers to make sure that the 90-minute lesson is engaging."

In addition to earning high EOG and EOC scores, Carteret County high school students also consistently earn among the highest SAT and ACT scores annually in North Carolina. The Carteret County News-Times reported that county graduates scored above the state and national averages on the SAT exam, earning the third highest score out of 115 public school systems in the state.

From 800 possible points on the reading and writing section, Carteret County students earned an average of 593 points. The county average on the math section was 584 points out of a possible 800.

The North Carolina averages were 549 and 542, respectively, and the national averages were 524 and 515.

"We're very focused on post-secondary education — our SAT scores are very strong," Bottoms said. "Our AP courses that we offer compete with larger metro areas because we put a lot of money into these programs. We want our students to graduate with credits and be competitive enough to go to UNC-Chapel Hill or Duke or wherever they choose to go, including Ivy League schools."

While the county's high schools have been getting a lot of attention, the district as a whole is committed to being a place where "students learn, grow and achieve."

Jody McClenny, principal of Newport Elementary School, emphasized the importance of intentional instruction at every level of education.

"We believe wholeheartedly, from kindergarten through 12th grade, that education in not a one-year event; it's a continual process for us all --- students and staff alike," she said. "I think that's why we see our high schoolers performing so well. When kids come to school at the age of five or six, we make sure that we're addressing their educational, social and emotional needs."

McClenny added, "Carteret County is committed to looking at the whole child."

Additionally, Carteret County teachers are committed to being the best in their craft and recognize the importance of knowing each student's learning profile. McClenny said it is her job to know how each student learns best, and to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses — capitalizing on the strengths and intervening when weaknesses appear.

McClenny echoed Bottoms's belief that the relationships in the school district, above all else, are what make Carteret County Schools successful.

"Our job is to level the playing field for all kids so that they have access to high-quality education," she said. "There's an expectation that we're going to do whatever it takes for our students."

This article was written for our sponsor, Crystal Coast Economic Development Foundation.

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