Test scores: taking a minute to celebrate before returning to work

When results of last spring’s state accountability tests were released on Thursday, LCPS took a well-deserved moment or two to celebrate the district’s academic improvement. Then everyone went back to work. As proud as we are of the district’s higher test scores, outstanding achievements by individual schools and some real growth spurts, and as much as our administrators and teachers deserve praise for the hard work that went into achieving those results, no one here is satisfied with where LCPS is and everyone here knows we have more to do.

Still, there’s no denying LCPS is on a journey of improvement.

Think of the reams of data derived from the accountability tests — data our administrators will spend many weeks combing through as they look for trends, for signs of what worked and what didn’t — as a milepost. In tackling end-of-grade and end-of-course exams for a few days in May and June, students showed how far they’d come during the school year. Overall, they traveled farther than the average student in the state. That tells us something important. That tells us the systems LCPS has put into place to support teachers and further learning are having a significant impact. That tells us we’re on the right road.

Here’s evidence of what we’re talking about:

  • LCPS’s composite proficiency score grew 3.6 percent points for 2016-2017 compared to the year before; the state’s grew by nine-tenths of a point.
  • Five of 16 schools exceeded academic growth expectations and 11 schools either met or exceeded growth. That’s an improvement over the previous two testing years. In 2015, two schools increased their growth designation and in 2016 three schools showed an increase.
  • Overall reading, math and science proficiency scores improved districtwide in fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grades. Math and science scores were up in the eighth grade.
  • High schools showed significant improvement in Math I and English II scores vs. 2015-16, Math I proficiency jumped to 40.5 percent proficiency from 32.4 percent; and the English II composite score rose nearly 10 points, to 42.2 from 32.9.
  • Subgroups showed gains in proficiency generally consistent throughout all schools. Gains were particularly significant among Hispanic students and Students With Disabilities.
  • Graduation rates rose at all traditional high schools. Districtwide for 2017, it was 81.7 percent — still lower than we want and lower than the state average of 86.5 percent, but moving rapidly in the right direction. LCPS’s rate grew by 2.2 percentage points over the previous year while the state’s rose by seven-tenths of a point.
  • School performance grades improved for four schools of the 16 assigned grades.

School performance grades are those single-letter grades assigned to all public schools under a formula designed by state legislators. We don’t like the formula — few people in education do — because it gives undue weight to the results of standardized tests (80 percent) and too little credit to students’ academic growth (20 percent). Since not all children start at the same place, it seems patently unfair to expect them to arrive at a different place at the same time, particularly if you’re comparing affluent students in an urban school district with low-income students in a rural district. Teachers typically have a different expectation; they expect all students, regardless of background, to show academic growth — the more the better, of course.

That’s why we’re celebrating the achievement of Rochelle Middle School as one of the most important revealed in accountability results. In its growth rating, Kinston’s middle school went from Not Met for 2015-2016 to Exceeding Growth — the highest rating — in 2016-2017. Student proficiency scores in reading and math improved in every grade and in some cases improved by double digits.

South Lenoir High School comes in for the same praise — growth from Not Met in 2016 testing to Exceeding Growth in 2017 testing. Also, South Lenoir’s four-year graduation rate of 87.2 percent was nearly six point’s higher than the previous year and better than the state average.

Some other individual highlights worth noting include:

  • Southwood Elementary School grew from Met to Exceeding Growth.
  • Northeast Elementary School and Contentnea-Savannah K-8 School grew from Not Met to Met.
  • Southeast Elementary School grew its composite proficiency score by double digits — 12.7 percent.
  • Moss Hill Elementary School posted a composite proficiency score of 73.4 percent, highest among our elementary schools.
  • Pink Hill Elementary School posted a fifth-grade science proficiency score of 94 percent and a math score of 83.1 percent.
  • Frink Middle School posted a Math I proficiency score of 95 percent.

So what’s behind such improvement? In the summer of 2016, principals and district administrators — building on preliminary work done months earlier — turned Superintendent Brent Williams’ goals for a more unified, focused school system into specific tools designed to ensure our instruction aligned with state standards and help teachers and administrators use data to track students’ progress. Those steps included development of curriculum guides, lesson plan templates, an instructional website and professional development opportunities geared to LCPS goals.

As helpful as those changes have been, they would not have worked so well without the dedication of our classroom teachers. They were asked to do a great deal last school year to move the needle and they are being asked this year to maintain that momentum. Now that we’re moving in the right direction, we’re not going to let off the gas.