The Mississippi Department of Education released its school district accountability grades Thursday, revealing a mixed bag of results in the Golden Triangle.
Columbus Municipal School District maintained its D rating, with Columbus Middle School remaining at an F rating. Cook Elementary and Franklin Academy both fell from D scores to Fs. Sale Elementary and Fairview Elementary both maintained D ratings, while Stokes Beard Elementary fell from a B to a C.
CMSD received 489 total points, out of a possible 1,000, on its assessment. The score is the lowest a district can get before falling to an F rating.
District Superintendent Philip Hickman said the low performing schools, which have struggled for years, are proof that something has to change with the district’s lower levels.
“We have inherited a system that is not working,” Hickman said. “This has been the system for the elementary schools and middle school for the past 10 years or so. We came in and tried to work under that system. I think it’s time for some systematic changes throughout the elementary and middle school levels.”
Accountability scores, which rank schools and school districts on an A-F scale, are based on a number of factors. According to MDE, the scores for the 2016-17 school year are based on how well students perform and progress from year to year on the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program tests for English Language Arts and Mathematics. The system also accounts for how students perform on fifth and eighth grade science tests.
High school accountability grades include the four-year graduation rate, student performance on biology, U.S. History and ACT tests, and student participation and performance in advanced coursework such as Advanced Placement and dual credit or dual enrollment classes.
Hickman said it’s too early to know for certain what changes at the elementary level will look like. He said district administration and the school board will have to look at successful models in other local districts and meet with principals and teachers to consider plans.
Change could be anything from adjusting which grades are at which schools, to changing scheduling, he said.
“We’re going to look at the data and see what it suggests,” he said. “We do know that we cannot be the same. We can’t run this district and elementary schools the same way they have been run.”
Hickman said he has faith the schools can turn around, based in part on the tremendous jump Columbus High School saw in accountability results. The high school, which received a D ranking last year, jumped to a B rating.
The district made a number of changes at the high school, Hickman said, including block scheduling and a “freshman academy” that focuses specifically on ninth-graders in one part of the building before they move in with the rest of the high school population. He said the district also implemented dual enrollment classes and one-to-one technology at the high school, so every student gets one device.
“We concentrated on making sure kids graduate,” he said. “I think our results paid off when, for the first time in the district’s history, the high school is a B. Your high school is your flagship building of your district, and we’re right there with everyone.
“It’s up there with the top schools in the state,” Hickman added. We’re proud of that and our kids and teachers.”
Hickman said it took time for the restructuring at the high school to pay off, but he said similar efforts should work as well for the lower schools.
“We’re going to make sure that our students are successful,” he said. “We know we have the ability, because they’re entering the high school and performing at a high level.”
Lowndes County School District
Lowndes County School District maintained its B rating in this year’s accountability ranking.
Caledonia Elementary and Caledonia High schools rose from B ratings to A ratings this year.
Deputy Superintendent Robin Ballard said Caledonia Elementary School’s score is a return to form after the school dropped from an A to a B in 2016.
Caledonia High School was able to take advantage of old cut scores — which MDE sets to determine the score ranges for each letter grade for schools and districts — to jump from a B to an A.
Ballard said MDE adjusted those score ranges this year, but allowed districts to use which cut score letter grade benefited the school best.
“Caledonia High is the only (LCSD) school that was able to take advantage of that,” Ballard added. “With the new cut scores, they would have been a B. With the old ones, they are an A.”
West Lowndes High School improved from an F last year to a D. LCSD’s other schools maintained their ratings, with Caledonia Middle School, New Hope Middle School and New Hope High School getting B ratings. West Lowndes Elementary and New Hope Elementary School maintained their C ratings.
Overall Ballard said LCSD is 34 points away from an A rating and poised to make the jump. To do that, she said the district will have to focus on improving its bottom 25 percent of students.
Superintendent Lynn Wright said he’s pleased with the district’s results.
“We’re elated and very, very proud of our scores and the achievement level that our students reached,” Wright said.
Starkville Oktibbeha Consolidated School District maintained its C rating.
West Elementary School improved from a C rating to an A, while Henderson/Ward Stewart Elementary dropped from a B rating to an F.
SOCSD Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and instruction K-7 Christy Maulding said schools with small student bodies such as West Elementary can be prone to wide score swings from year to year based on the performance of few students, while larger schools tend to perform more steadily.
Still she said the district is proud of West Elementary’s achievement. At Henderson/Ward Stewart, and Armstrong, which kept its D rating, she said the district is working to identify trends and improve performance.
“It’s important when we get data to realize that year is in the past,” she said. “It’s a point in time, it’s a day in time that we can dissect and make plans for the future. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to look at trends.”
Maulding said Armstrong Middle Schools’ leadership team meets regularly on professional learning goals, and she said teacher training and support at the school is focusing on working with students of all achievement ranges.
She said similar efforts will be implemented at HWS.
“At Henderson/Ward Stewart, we want to look at grade level standards, and we want to look at every single student,” she said. “We want to identify processes and instructional strategies that reach a range of students and support teachers. Of course we need students at school every day, we need them behaving at school and we need good teaching and learning from the minute they arrive there to when they leave. That’s what we need and that’s what we’re going to focus on at Henderson/Ward Stewart.”
Overstreet Elementary School, which did not have a grade listed for last year’s results, received a C rating this year. Starkville High School maintained a B rating, but grew year-over-year and is closing in on an A rating.
The scores serve as a starting point for Maulding and District Superintendent Eddie Peasant’s new administration, which is progressing through its first full school year at the district’s helm.
Peasant said the district will work to make some of the strategies at its successful schools district-wide initiatives.
“We have evaluated what’s working in schools that are more successful,” Peasant said. “That’s part of our district-wide plan, to put together things that are working in this district and make them district non-negotiables and expectations in all the schools.
“Instead of having this plan at this school and a different plan for another school, we’re focused on a system-wide plan and vision,” he added.
He also said the district will use short-term assessments, aligned with what students will face on state tests, to monitor progress throughout the year, rather than wait to see how the district performed at the end of the year.
Maulding said such assessments will help teachers identify problem areas during the school year.
“Much more important to me than the overall student performance is did we have any pockets where we had a large population of students that didn’t understand the question or got it wrong, so we can go back and teach test-taking strategies, reteach a standard that might have been misunderstood,” Maulding said. “It helps inform the teacher’s instruction when we can break it down item by item like that.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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