Why did Phenix City Schools host more than 220 educators from 20-plus districts?
The Alabama State Department of Education isn’t expected to release the 2017 results of its standardized tests until September, but Phenix City Schools superintendent Randy Wilkes has provided the Ledger-Enquirer a sneak peek – and the scores include historic highs for the system.
In his summary of the raw data from the 2017 Aspire tests for grades 3-8, highlights include:
▪ Math scores are the highest in school system history.
“Three years ago, non-aligned mathematics textbooks were removed from Phenix City Schools classrooms, and teachers were challenged to teach the standards,” said Wilkes, hired by the Phenix City Board of Education in June 2014 from Crenshaw County.
▪ In reading and math at every grade level, more students are proficient than ever before, with the exception of eighth-grade reading, which still improved by 23 percent when comparing most of those same students represented in the 2016 seventh-grade reading scores.
▪ In the past three years, overall math scores have increased by 8 percent and overall reading scores have increased by 2 percent.
Comparing the 2014 and 2017 Aspire math scores, grades 3-8 made three-year gains at all eight schools:
Ridgecrest 10.8 percent, Lakewood 10 percent, Meadowlane 9.7 percent, Sherwood 8.3 percent, Phenix City Elementary 3 percent, Phenix City Intermediate 3 percent, Westview 2.3 percent and South Girard 2.2 percent.
Comparing 2014 and 2017 Aspire reading scores, grades 3-8 made three-year gains at six of the eight schools:
Meadowlane 7.3 percent, Lakewood 5.6 percent, Sherwood 4.3 percent, Ridgecrest 3 percent, Westview 3 percent, Phenix City Intermediate 1.3 percent, South Girard minus-1.3 percent and Phenix City Elementary minus-4.5 percent.
Phenix City’s graduation rate has increased from approximately 81 percent in 2014 to 87 percent in 2016, matching the state average. The 2016 figure was revised from 90 percent when federal officials ended the ALSDE’s inclusion of special-needs students who met their Individual Education Plan requirements but didn’t meet the state’s graduation requirements.
The national high school graduation rate in 2016 was 83.2 percent, Wilkes said. The graduation rate for the class of 2017 isn’t available because results from summer school haven’t been reported, he said.
Wilkes told the Ledger-Enquirer in an interview Friday that the schools system’s academic improvement is “affirmation of what we set out to do three years ago, and we’re starting to accomplish it. We’re not finished by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s good for our students, teachers, staff, parents and all stakeholders to see these results.”
▪ $3 million for the Dyer Family STEM Center at Phenix City Intermediate School, where students in grades 6-7 learn science, technology, engineering and math skills in an interactive environment.
▪ $1.75 million for SmartLabs in each of the seven primary or elementary schools, enabling students to explore robotics, software engineering, mechanics and structures, circuitry, scientific data and analysis, alternative energy, computer graphics and digital media arts.
▪ $1.3 million for the system’s 1:1 computer device initiative, which provided iPad Airs with electronic textbooks for grades 6-8 and Chromebooks with electronic textbooks for grades 9-12, equipping approximately 3,500 students and 300 teachers.
▪ $335,000 to train 25 teachers for 160 hours to become STEM certified.
“When we started, we talked about STEMming students out of poverty,” Wilkes said. “When you look at 8 percent of our tested population of 3,500 students, that’s 280 more students that have met the benchmarks and now have opportunities that they never had before.”
Asked what concerns him the most about these test results and how the school system will address that concern, Wilkes said the Title I schools (Phenix City Elementary, Meadowlane, Ridgecrest, Sherwood and Westview) need more improvement in reading.
Fortunately, the school system will receive an extra $500,000 in federal aid during fiscal year 2018, bringing the Title I funding total to $2.6 million in the $70 million operating budget. Wilkes plans to ask the school board to use that additional half million dollars to pay for 16 part-time reading intervention specialists.
And he already has data to indicate such assistance works. In only three months, from January to April this year, 138 of 320 Phenix City students (43 percent) who received reading intervention from a part-time specialist improved their reading level from below the state standard to meeting or exceeding the state standard.