We have much to celebrate as we reflect on the first semester of the 2016-17 school year in Pinellas County Schools. We are building on last year’s accomplishments and maintaining a focus on increasing student achievement. We are committed to raising the bar for all students by encouraging them to participate in courses and programs that challenge them.
We are continuing our work to increase the enrollment of African-American students in gifted and talented programs in elementary school and in higher-level math and English courses in middle school. Students have more opportunities to explore science, technology, engineering and math through dedicated science labs in elementary schools and the before- and after-school STEM Academies in elementary and middle schools.
The district currently has 247 STEM Academies for second- through eighth-graders with nearly 5,000 students participating. In the academies, students engage in design challenges, explore careers and use technology to enhance their understanding of the world. All of our Title 1 schools, which serve students from lower income families, offer STEM Academies. Students in STEM Academies are 3.26 times more likely to earn a proficient score on the state math assessment and 3.68 times more likely to earn a proficient score on the state science assessment.
One way the district determines when students are ready for more demanding classes in high school is through the use of the College Board’s SAT suite of assessments. These include the PSAT, which is offered for free in Pinellas for students in grades 8-10.
Getting a good SAT score gives students more choices when it comes to college, and students who practice for the SAT generally do much better on the assessment. We are encouraging families to take advantage of a partnership between an online learning resource called Khan Academy and the College Board to help better prepare students. Students can log onto Khan Academy at www.SATpractice.org for free, personalized practice. Schools throughout the district help students link their PSAT results to Khan Academy accounts for practice that is tailored to their individual needs.
I am proud to share that the district recently received a report from the College Board, and we have seen an upward trend in many areas. In Pinellas, SAT average scores rose by 13 points in reading, 12 points in math and 11 points in writing. Pinellas saw increases while results in the state and the nation trended down. When we look at scores from last year to this year by race or ethnic group, scores among each subgroup increased.
Advanced Placement (AP) courses are college-level courses offered at high schools throughout the district. AP classes are open to all students who want to challenge themselves and potentially earn college credit. The district has no entry criteria for AP courses and minimal prerequisites. The College Board report showed that, overall, students taking AP exams increased 12.8 percent from 2014 to 2016. During that same timeframe, exams taken by minority students increased by 4.2 percent.
Dr. Michael Grego
To strengthen our efforts to close the achievement gap between minority students and their peers, the district recently hired Dr. Lewis Brinson as the Minority Achievement Officer, a first-time position for Pinellas County Schools. Dr. Brinson is a 40-year educator, who recently served as Chief Diversity Officer of the Hillsborough County School District. He has previously worked as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and district administrator. We are thrilled to have an educator with such longstanding and valuable experience in this role.
Thank you for taking the time to learn about some of the many opportunities and upward trends in Pinellas County Schools. On behalf of the school district, I want to wish you and your families a safe and enjoyable holiday season and a happy, healthy new year.