Wilson schools make giant gains on state tests

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Sixth-grade math teacher Casey Wester assists a student at Forest Hills Middle School on Thursday.
Sixth-grade math teacher Casey Wester assists a student at Forest Hills Middle School on Thursday.
Drew C. Wilson | Times.

Wilson County Schools has improved its ranking to 59th in the state in overall proficiency, according to accountability data released Wednesday by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

The school system rose 30 positions from being 89th among 115 school districts in 2017.

Wilson County’s ranking was due to a 9.1 percentage point increase on state tests, which was the second-highest gain among the state’s public school systems.

For the last two years, WCS had the highest increase in proficiency of any other school district in the state.

“We really saw a lot of gain between last year and this year with our performance on our math, reading and science,” said WCS superintendent Lane Mills. “I really think it shows the hard work of our students and our teachers and our principals. There is really nothing fancy about it. It’s just a lot of hard work. That is really just a nice turn for us. It is just a great compliment to them for all they have done. For us, it’s really powerful and we are glad to see that. Our goal is to be a top 20 district in the state.”

For 2017-18, 18 of the district’s 25 schools (72 percent) earned either an A, B or C letter grade. That is an improvement over 56 percent from the 2016-17 school year and 45 percent the 2015-16 school year.

Wilson Early College Academy maintained its A letter grade that it’s held since the 2013-14 school year.

Rock Ridge Elementary School also maintained its A status, achieving the highest growth for an elementary school at 5.96 points, an increase in 1.88 points over the previous year.

Forest Hills Middle School had the largest increase in growth in the district in 2017-18 at a rate of 10.51 percentage points, an increase of 8.75 points over the previous year.

Forest Hills Principal Jonathan Tribula said he was proud of the school and the students.

“They worked really hard and did what they asked them to do. I am really proud for the teachers, especially the ones who have been here for a very long time. They deserve all the credit. They are the ones who have been working eight hours a day with the kids. We feel like our kids are really prepared to go on to the next grade and achieve the vision of the board to be lifelong learners in the 21st century.”

Among conventional high schools, Beddingfield claimed the top spot for the most growth, with 72 percent to earn a B grade.

Beddingfield Principal F.T. Franks said the faculty, staff and students worked hard to reach this level of performance.

“I can’t explain in words knowing where we were and what we have accomplished in these last three years,” Franks said.

“Three years ago we were one point shy of getting a C and we got a D. And when you receive a D, that’s a whole other stigma attached to your school I feel is unwarranted because you have to go through a lot of hoops. Many things change that require a lot more effort and a lot more time that takes away from instruction. We were so glad last year to raise it to a C, but after we got that C we said ‘Can we set our sights on a B or even beyond?’ I challenged the staff and they challenged me and we all began to have that vision. We wanted to create a different culture shift here that I have never been a part of before.”

Franks lauded the efforts of former assistant principal Katrina Cobb and current assistant principal Kelly Carter in playing a vital part in helping the school reach its goal.

Other WCS schools earning a B included Frederick Douglass Elementary, Gardners Elementary, Hunt High, Lucama Elementary, New Hope Elementary and the Wilson Academy of Applied Technology.

WCS schools earning a C grade include Lee Woodard Elementary, Stantonsburg Elementary, Vinson-Bynum Elementary, Wells Elementary, Elm City Middle, Forest Hills Middle, Speight Middle, Springfield Middle and Fike High.

WCS schools getting a D grade include Hearne Elementary, Jones Elementary, Vick Elementary, Winstead Elementary, Darden Middle and Toisnot Middle.
On the Education Value-Added Assessment System, 11 schools, or 42 percent, exceeded growth expectations, while 9 met growth expectations and 6 did not meet expectations.

“Exceeding growth means that students are gaining more than a year’s worth of learning for a year spent in school,” Mills said.

WCS nearly tripled the number of schools exceeding growth in 2017-18 compared with where the district was two years ago.

Some 20 out of 26 schools met or exceeded growth compared with 16 schools in 2016-17 and 12 schools in 2015-16.

Schools exceeding growth expectations included Gardners, Lee Woodard, New Hope, Rock Ridge, Winstead, Darden, Forest Hills, Speight, Beddingfield, Hunt and the Wilson Early College Academy.

Schools meeting growth expectations included Douglass, Hearne, Lucama, Stantonsburg, Vick, Wells, Springfield, Toisnot and the Wilson Academy of Applied Technology. Schools not meeting growth expectations included Barnes, Jones, Vinson-Bynum, Daniels, Elm City and Fike.

Reading performance improved overall for grades 4-8. Math results overall for grades 3-8 and science test results improved for grades 5-8.

In reading and science,18 out of 21 elementary and middle schools improved.

In math, 20 out of 21 elementary and middle schools improved.

All middle schools, except the Daniels Learning Center, improved overall or remained at 100 percent in Math I.

In biology and English II, four out of six high schools, including Daniels, improved overall.

Daniels Learning Center was identified as being in “progressing status” after having been in “maintaining status” the two previous years. The school had an improvement of 5.42 points on the growth index scale.

Amber Lynch, Wilson County Schools public relations director, said proficiency improvements directly correlate with Mills’ tenure as superintendent. Mills started work on July 1, 2016.