Schools increase proficiency, annual state report card shows
By Kim Grizzard
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
An annual report card issued by the state showed Pitt County public schools made significant improvements last year, officials said on Monday.
Twenty-eight schools in the district showed increased student proficiency, half of those showing an increase of 10 percent or more over the previous school year.
“We're certainly proud of the effort the teachers and the principals put into the instructional process last year,” Pitt County Schools Superintendent Ethan Lenker said at a news conference. “When you increase your proficiency by as much as we did this year, it shows the focus was really where it needed to be.”
Pitt County Schools reported a 3.2 percent increase in reading proficiency for grades three-eight. In science, the district reported a 9.8 percent increase in fifth-grade proficiency, a 14.5 percent increase in eighth-grade proficiency and a 6.2 percent increase in proficiency in biology. Math proficiency rates were unavailable because of a change in testing.
Eleven schools in the district exceeded school growth status, the standard for which is about a year's worth of growth for a year of instruction.
“Our schools performed at a much higher rate as far as meeting and exceeding growth than schools across the state,” Lenker said, adding that only four schools in the district did not meet school growth status.
“It doesn't mean we don't have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We still have a lot of work to do, obviously.”
Thirty-six of the county's 37 schools received a passing grade, according to school performance ratings released by the state Board of Education last week.
Three schools received As. Lenker said Hope Middle School, which received a B grade last year, is one of 30 middle schools in the state to make an A. Innovation Early College High School and Pitt County Early College High School were among 120 high schools in the state to receive As. This is the fourth year that PCS Early College High School has made an A.
South Greenville Elementary School received an F for the second consecutive year and for the fourth time since the state began assigning school performance grades in 2014.
Six additional schools were designated as low-performing: Belvoir, C.M. Eppes, Grifton, Lakeforest, Northwest and Wahl-Coates all received a grade of D. Falkland Elementary also received a D grade but is not listed as low-performing because it exceeded school growth status.
Falkland, Northwest and Grifton schools are Restart Schools, a designation the state Board of Education offers to help turn around low-performing schools.
More than 100 schools across the state have been approved for Restart, which does not include additional funding but does allow schools more freedom in spending, as well as scheduling and programming. South Greenville is set to become the county's fourth Restart school next year.
“Over the last three years, Pitt County has decreased the number of low-performing schools by 50 percent — 14 schools to seven,” Lenker said.
He said the state's definition of a low-performing school is not ideal because, in his view, it does not place enough emphasis on growth students make. He pointed to Grifton School, which showed a 34 percent increase in proficiency last year, as an example.
“In two years, Grifton's improved as much as any school in the state,” Lenker said. “The definition (low-performing) is just unfortunate.
“I've said lots of times that the grading system is flawed,” he said. “(It would be better) if we were able to look at our schools based on a 50-50 model, 50 percent growth, 50 percent proficiency, that measures what the teachers do in that year.”
School performance ratings reflect a composite of proficiency scores — the number of students testing at or above grade level — and growth, which is based on a formula that measures improvement on testing from one year to the next. Proficiency accounts for 80 percent of the composite score and growth accounts for 20 percent.
Kylene Dibble, executive director of Parents for Public Schools of Pitt County, agreed that growth deserves more consideration.
“We talk a lot about advocating for this change from 80-20 to 50-50,” she said. “It is concerning that many parents come into town not fully understanding that grading scale and making their decisions on a grade that really isn't an accurate perception of that school.”
The state's school performance ratings also have been criticized for highlighting inequities that affect high-poverty schools, rather than how effective those schools are at educating students, including many who enter kindergarten not ready for school.
The Public School Forum of North Carolina reports that among the 21.7 percent of North Carolina schools that received either a D or F in 2018-19, 95 percent of those schools were serving high-poverty populations.
Statistics provided by Pitt County Schools show that among the district's schools receiving a D or an F grade last year, 73 percent or more of the students were economically disadvantaged. South Greenville had the highest percentage of economically disadvantaged students at 88 percent.
Two other schools within Pitt County, though not a part of the Pitt County Schools system, also received grades of F. They are Ignite Innovation Academy and the ECU Community School.
Ignite is listed as a continually low-performing charter school, having scored an F on the last three state report cards.
The ECU Community School, a separate school which opened inside South Greenville Elementary in 2017, was one of eight lab schools established by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors to improve student performance at low-performing schools.