Polk elementary schools show high academic growth

Published 3:15 pm Friday, August 7, 2009

Tryon Elementary, Sunny View Elementary and Saluda Elementary are an Honors School of Excellence with High Growth this year.

&dquo;Our staff, our principals and our teachers, are just working really hard to make sure our students are learning what they need to know and progressing to the next grade,&dquo; said Dave Scherping, accountability director at Polk County Schools

Tryon Elementary has routinely achieved the state&squo;s highest honor since the ABCs program was launched in 1996, and has been joined at the top the past few years by Sunny View and Saluda elementary schools.

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Polk Central School and Polk County Middle School were close behind this year.

Polk County Middle was rated as a School of Distinction with Expected Growth. The middle school missed high growth targets, and had 88.1 percent of students performing at or above proficiency.

A school meets expected academic growth if students &dquo;made a year&squo;s worth of growth during the school year,&dquo; and it meets high growth if students made more than a year&squo;s worth of growth.

Polk Central is a School of Distinction with High Growth after meeting both expected and high growth targets.

Polk Central had 85.7 percent of students performing at or above proficiency, leaving it just shy of the 90-percent mark needed for the state&squo;s top honor.

Polk Central, which adopted a science focus three years ago, led Polk&squo;s schools again on science tests. The school had a proficiency of 90.4 percent, followed by Saluda at 88.5 percent, and Polk County Middle at 86.5 percent.

&dquo;(The science focus) has definitely had a positive impact, not only at Polk Central, but at other schools that are trying to catch up to them, so it&squo;s definitely been a success,&dquo; says Polk County Schools Supt. Bill Miller.

Sunny View led Polk schools on the math test with 96.1 percent proficiency, followed by Tryon Elementary at 95.3 percent and Saluda at 94.3 percent. Tryon Elementary led in Reading with 94.3 percent proficiency. Sunny View was next at 90.8 percent, followed by Saluda at 87.4 percent.

Overall, 88.3 percent of Polk&squo;s third through eighth graders tested proficient or better on all three tests, reading, math and science.

Science test results were used in the calculations of the school&squo;s ABCs performance composites only in grades 5 and 8 this year. The state also dropped the writing test for fourth and seventh grades, leaving it only for the 10th grade. Scherping says the change was made after the state determined that it was too costly to send off writing tests for proper evaluation by trained professionals.

The biggest change in the state&squo;s accountability system this year was allowing students to take the test again. The results from the first retest in grades 3 through 8 were used in the caculation of ABCs performance composities and the federal Adequate Yearly Progress model.

&dquo;For people who did not pass, we were able to give additional instruction and work on deficiencies and they were tested again,&dquo; says Scherping.

The additional instruction helped some students improve their results and reach a proficient level. Scherping says Polk County High School students increased their proficiency on End of Course tests by 3.7 percent.

The results were not enough to help Polk County High meet expected growth targets this year.

The school had an overall performance compositive of 78.9 percent, just slightly above the Polk County Virtual Early College at 77.8 percent.

Students at the high school and early college excelled in most of the math and science tests, topping 80 percent proficiency in all but Biology (78.8 percent). Students at the high school and early college did not do as well on other subjects. They combined for a proficiency mark of just 69 percent in Civics and Economics and 72.4 percent in U.S. History.

&dquo;That&squo;s an ongoing question at Polk County High School,&dquo; says Supt. Miller. &dquo;There are courses we&squo;re not performing as well in and we&squo;ve got to work on that.&dquo;

Polk County Schools Asst. Supt. Mary Margaret Ingle says teachers are in workshops all summer looking at curriculum and ways to improve student performance.

Teachers did not gain a monetary benefit this year for higher students performance. Due to budget concerns, the state cut at the beginning of the school year the money awarded to teachers if their schools attained expected growth ($750 per teacher) and high growth ($1,500 per teacher).

School administrators say the funds were appreciated by teachers, but they were not their motiviation. They say teachers were already doing all they can to help students perform at a high level.