School district improves overall in EOG tests

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Superintendent Lane Mills said Friday that the biggest thing to come from Thursday’s release of end-of-grade scores is that Wilson County Schools is no longer classified as a low-performing district.

Last year, WCS was one of 10 school districts across the state that were under that designation.

“That designation is when 50 percent or more of your schools are designated as low-performing,” Mills said. “This year we have 10 out of 25 schools that are low-performing. The year before it was 13 out of 24.”

Because of that designation, WCS had to prepare a district plan that required approval by the Wilson County Board of Education. The plan had to be submitted to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education for approval.

“We are no longer at 50 percent. We are at 40 percent,” Mills said. “It represents great progress for us and our school system. For us to recruit and retain people for our community, we certainly don’t want any designation that would imply that we’re not working hard every day for our kids, so having that designation come off of us was an indication of all of the hard work of our students and staff and a good thing for our school system.”

The three schools whose status meant the difference were Elm City Elementary, Vinson-Bynum Elementary and Winstead Elementary.

“To be a low-performing school, you either have to be ‘met growth’ or ‘did not meet growth,’” Mills said. “The other piece is you have to a school performance grade of below C.”

Claudia Spencer, principal at Elm City Elementary School, said in 2015-16, the school was right on the verge of getting a higher grade.

“We went from missing being a C school by 32 hundredths of a point, which basically equated to two tests,” Spencer said. “Not two students, but two tests, proficiency wise.”

When the results from the 2016-17 end-of-grade tests were released Thursday, Spencer let the whole school know.

“I came over the intercom and made the announcement that we had basically gone from a D to a high C+++++ because we were one point away from being a B, which is huge,” Spencer said. “I congratulated the students and the teachers an then we just played Kool and the Gang’s ‘Celebration.’” The kids got up and danced and they had a really good time. The students were excited. They understood that they had done well and they had worked hard.”

One thing to remember about the EOG test results is the percentage of students who are proficient, meeting the grade level standard.

“We went up in 16 schools, so 16 of our 26 schools improved the percentage of students that were meeting grade level standards and above,” Mills said. “That has a huge impact on our school system.”

Mills said that performance is across multiple schools.

“We doubled the numbers of schools that exceeded growth from four schools the year before to eight this year, so that’s a big indicator,” Mills said. “We’ve seen our performance on end-of-grade and end-of-course tests combined increase.”

Scores in grade 3-5 math and grade 3-5 reading have both increased. Grade 5-8 science scores have increased.

“Doubling the amount of schools that exceed growth is a big indicator for us, so that means our students are catching up at a much faster rate,” Mills said. “We certainly have work to do, like any other school system in the state. We talk about that every day. It certainly shows that we’ve started to make the turn in focusing on our instruction every day.”

Mills said that teachers are focusing on students and daily instruction.

“As a district, last year we refocused on classroom instruction and supporting our teachers,” Mills said. “We focused on our data and our instructional plans and our pacing with our principals each month, reviewing our data and just kept the focus on supporting our teachers and our daily instruction.”

Daniel Barnes, principal at Vinson-Bynum Elementary, said it was very gratifying for the students and the staff to see the hard work that they had been doing for the past couple of years start to pay off.

“We had created a strategic plan at the school level to really learn how to analyze data on an individualized student level and make plans for individual students to find where they are and get them to where they need to be,” Barnes said. “We had a running motto all year long that we said at every staff meeting and that was always ‘At least one year amount of growth for being here in school one year.’”

“That was to work on that growth component and so every piece of data we could collect, whether it was behavioral, academic, testing, benchmarking, whatever we could do,” Barnes said. “We wanted the kids to be one year grown up from the time they started with us to the time they ended with us.”

Barnes said it required putting the right teachers in the right place to achieve the results.

“The teachers had been working hard for a long time, but to finally have the strategic plan to put it all together and have the right people in place, that was one of our keys last year, with the hiring pieces, making sure we had the right people on the right spot on the bus, so to speak, to make sure the people were where they needed to be to be successful,” Barnes said. “We were nervous all year because we felt like everything was in place to be successful. and it was not a surprise that we were successful. We were surprised at how much success we got.”

Vinson-Bynum increased its grade from 43 percent and a D last year to 62 percent and a C.

‘Every child counts. That’s what’s on the back of our staff shirts for this year because they do,” said Spencer. “It is amazing and it makes me extremely proud of our students because of the work that they put in and teachers because the teachers worked extremely hard for the growth piece to help us grow. It’s a whole combined effort. It’s not one particular thing or one particular group. You’ve got teachers who are working hard and planning together and looking at data in grade-level meetings and discussing what they can do, looking at individual students and creating groups and ‘How can we help them in specific areas of deficits to improve?’ The ultimate goal that we have is to improve students. We want to meet students where they are and help them grow from there. That is ultimately what we are doing. It’s just being there every day and teaching.”

Wilson Early College earned an overall performance grade of A with 93 percent. Rock Ridge Elementary (83 percent) and New Hope Elementary (79 percent) earnd Bs.

Mills said the students and staff should be congratulated for the improvements.

“I think it is very important for our folks to celebrate the success of our staff and our students and their hard work in this past year and for our community,” Mills said. “To come out of low-performing status is certainly a great tribute to the work the students and staff did last year. That’s a great accolade for our school system.”