Report card shows state ahead of Lee students in Common Core

Yet most local students still met or exceeded expected growth
Jan. 30, 2014 @ 05:02 AM

Students in Lee County Schools lagged behind the rest of the state in reading and math at nearly every grade level in the first year of Common Core testing, according to data released by the state Tuesday afternoon.

In the "report cards" issued for the 2012-13 school year for both individual schools and school districts at www.ncreportcards.org, the state reported that 40.1 percent of Lee County students in grades three through eight tested at or above grade level in reading, compared to 43.9 percent of North Carolina students. In math, 41.7 of local elementary and middle school students were at or above grade level, compared to 42.3 percent of students statewide.

"I'm disappointed, of course," said Dr. Lynn Smith, chairman of the Lee County Board of Education. "I understand why it's happening, and that the whole momentum here is to create a curriculum and assessment that's more on par with international standards. ... And the state (school) board set the bar high on purpose. I understand that, and we accept that challenge."

The amount of Lee County third graders reading at or above grade level was slightly above the state average, as were the amount of sixth, seventh and eighth graders passing the math test. But in every other category, local elementary and middle school students fell behind their statewide peers.

At the high school level, local students scored even further behind the state average than their younger peers, especially in reading.

Just 40.1 percent of high schoolers in Lee County passed the English II test, compared to 51.2 percent statewide. In Math I (previously algebra/integrated math), 30.8 percent of local students passed compared to 36.3 percent statewide. In biology, 36.8 percent of local students passed compared to 45.6 percent statewide.

But Lee County Schools Superintendent Andy Bryan said those numbers don't give the whole picture. The state also measures growth, and he said students in Lee County met or exceeded growth — meaning they improved a significant amount from the year before — in almost every single subject at every single grade level.

In fact, he said, the only areas in which local students didn't meet growth were in fifth-grade reading, eighth-grade math and the high school Math I test. And while math was an issue at some levels, he said, students in fourth, sixth and seventh grades didn't just meet their expected growth in math; they actually exceeded growth. Students also exceeded growth in biology.

"I think that's a better sort of assessment of where we are. Now do we want proficiency levels to be better? Certainly."

He added: "We have great faith in our teachers. Considering all the changes they've been subjected to, with all the testing changes that have been going on, they will continue to do a great job and help improve those proficiency rates."

The state also measures student's passing rates by demographics such as race and family income, as well as the number of students who pass both tests.

While 40.1 percent of local students passed reading and 41.7 percent passed math, only 27.8 percent of males and 30.8 percent of females passed both tests — both below the state average.

The rates for black, Hispanic, Native American, disabled and low-income elementary and middle school students were all above the state average, while the rates for white, Asian and middle/upper class students were below average. At the high school level, most demographic groups were below the state average.

The school district report card also shows that Lee County teachers and administrators, on average, aren't as experienced or as educated as their statewide peers.

No local principal has 10 years of experience leading a school, for example, although 13 percent of principals statewide have at least a decade of experience. Every level of school in Lee County has an above-average percentage of teachers with three or fewer years of experience, and only at the high school level does Lee County have an above-average number of teachers with 10 years experience or more.

The district also fell below state averages in the number of principals with advanced degrees, the number of teachers with advanced degrees and the number of National Board Certified teachers.

Bryan, though, said he's not overly concerned — although he said he would like to see those numbers rise, and that the district does support those who want to pursue further education and professional development.

"I know — because I talk to them every day — that our teachers are committed to the profession," he said.