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Pinckney hits excellence milestone

It's hard for a top-ranked school to do even better

By Diette Courrégé
The Post and Courier
Thursday, November 29, 2007

It's hard for a top-ranked school to do even better

Fifth-graders Will Jones (right),  Brooklynn Dawson (center) and Joshua Masten (left) work Wednesday during 'flex' time at Charles Pickney Elementary.

Melissa Haneline
The Post and Courier

Fifth-graders Will Jones (right), Brooklynn Dawson (center) and Joshua Masten (left) work Wednesday during 'flex' time at Charles Pickney Elementary.

Best of the best

Thirty-two schools statewide received excellent absolute and improvement ratings on this year's state report card: five primary schools, seven elementary schools, six high schools and 14 career centers. No middle schools had both ratings. Excellent ratings are the best a school can get.

Pinckney has one of the lowest poverty rates for elementary schools in the state, with only 16 percent of its 780 students considered low income. Between 15 and 34 percent of students at the other five elementary schools that rated excellent in both categories live in poverty.

It's not easy for schools to earn the highest ratings on state report cards, but one Lowcountry elementary school managed to do it.

Charles Pinckney Elementary in Mount Pleasant, a non-magnet school that enrolls any third- through fifth-grade students who live in its attendance zone, got the best marks possible — excellent absolute and improvement ratings — on the recently released report cards.

Only seven elementary schools statewide were able to accomplish what Pinckney students did. Only one other local school, Academic Magnet High, earned those same ratings. Academic Magnet is a magnet school and has academic admission requirements.

While Pinckney always has achieved an excellent rating, it's never had an excellent improvement rating. Absolute ratings are based on the percentage of students who meet state standards on the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test that specific school year, but improvement ratings compare the same students' scores from one year to the next to determine their academic growth.

It's difficult for high-achieving schools to earn excellent improvement ratings because their top students already have high scores, and it's tough to raise those scores enough to affect the school's rating, said Janet Rose, Charleston schools' executive director of assessment and accountability. High-scoring students easily can fall to lower levels because the most advanced scoring category includes a narrow range of scores, she said.

Teachers must adjust their instruction so that lower-achieving kids will improve while still challenging high-achieving students, she said.

Pinckney embraced the idea of giving students what they needed. Principal Leanne Sheppard carved out time in the school's schedule for an extra 30-minute instructional period. Students' grade levels didn't matter, and they were put into groups based on test data that showed their academic strengths and weaknesses. Each received laser-focused instruction, and the student groups changed every few weeks, depending on the subject and students' achievement levels.

Sheppard said it took a considerable amount of organization and coordination to get kids where they needed to go, but the hands-on, no worksheet periods were worth it.

The faculty at Pinckney also renewed their commitment to making the most of instructional time by ensuring lessons were rigorous and tailored to fit students' needs. Teachers stuck to the state standards, which meant some tossed out their favorite units because they didn't fit into the curriculum, Sheppard said.

A hallmark of the school has been its close guard on instructional time, a practice that was emphasized this year. The school doesn't do school-wide assemblies, deliver items to classrooms during class time or blare school-wide announcements during classes. Birthday parties happen during lunch instead of class, and field trips are limited to two per year for each grade level.

Sheppard said the school faculty was shocked to learn the school had scored excellent in both categories because they thought it wouldn't happen. And immediately after that, she said, they started talking about was what they did differently last year so they could do it again this year to get the same results.


2009 State Report Card - No Child Left Behind - Adequate Yearly Progress


High Definition Video Of Pinckney Elementary, Cairo Middle & Laurel Hill Primary Schools In Mount Pleasant, SC.