Schools make strides; literacy will fuel progress
Sunday, September 29, 2019
An annual state report released this month showed students in Pitt County public schools improved their scores last year on reading, math and other end-of-grade tests, but we still have a challenge ahead of us.
Based on the report’s School Achievement Scores, which include scoring from all end-of-grade tests including reading and math, the number of students performing at grade level at 27 schools increased in 2018-19 over 2017-18. Nine schools scored at slightly lower proficiency levels from the previous year, and one school’s score did not change.
When paired with marks for growth in student learning, which is based on a formula that measures improvement on testing from one year to the next, six county schools improved from from D grades to C grades on the report and one from a B to an A. That left the school system with only seven schools classified as low-performing by the state: six had D grades and one had an F.
That’s great news. But consider this as well: Twenty schools in the system, including five out of the six traditional high schools, received C grades. The highest proficiency score at those schools was 68; some schools scored as low as 58.
That means that 32 percent or more of the students at those schools were not learning at grade level. The challenge is greater at the seven low-performing schools, where nearly one half or more of the students are not proficient.
It’s not that our school system is not teaching its students well. The improvement year over year for the last several years show excellent teaching it taking place. But we also know that too many students come to school in the early grades completely unprepared. Poverty and parenting often are to blame.
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 Elementary, which received the districts only F grade, had the highest percentage of economically disadvantaged students at 88 percent.
High poverty is directly tied to low literacy. Efforts to improve literacy will lower poverty in the long term and concurrently improve student performance at our schools.
READ ENC, a community organization supported by East Carolina University, Vidant Health, Pitt County United Way and others, has been working at a high level to address literacy here since 2014.
Among other programs, the effort offers free books to every child in the county from from birth to age 5. Enrolled children get a new, age-appropriate book every month that they can read with their family. Currently, nearly 65 percent of the eligible children are receiving the books.
This has tremendous potential to have every student in the county reading at grade level over the course of their careers, and we expect the effort will help improve school grades in the near future.
Why should we care if our public students perform better? Better readers mean better mathematicians, scientists and citizens. That translates into more taxpayers, a better economy and a better community.
Visit readenc.org to learn how to get involved.