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Test scores not likely to affect status for Starkville, Columbus


Carmen K. Sisson



State test scores are on the rise, but when the Mississippi Department of Education's accountability rankings are released later this month, school officials in at least two local districts expect to remain at the same level as last year. 


Schools across the state released the results this week of the Mississippi Curriculum Test (MCT2), given to students in grades 3-8, and the Subject Area Testing Program (SATP), given to high-schoolers.  


The MCT2 grades students on proficiency in language arts and mathematics, while the SATP grades high school students in four areas: Algebra I, English II, Biology and United States History.  


The test scores are used to calculate each school and school district's Quality Distribution Index (QDI), which will determine the accountability labels for 2011-2012.  


For the past three years, MDE has used a seven-tier ranking system: star school, high-performing, successful, low-performing, academic watch, at risk of failing and failing. This year, the accountability model will use grades of "A" through "F" to rate schools. 




Columbus Municipal School District 


The Columbus Municipal School District has been on academic watch for the past two years, which is the equivalent of a "D." Despite QDI gains at some schools, and gains in fourth grade language arts and fifth grade mathematics, the district expects to remain at the academic watch level, said Kimberly Gardner, the district's assessment and data coordinator. The district's QDI dropped this year from 143 to 142. 


Cook Elementary Fine Arts Magnet School and Franklin Elementary Medical and Wellness Magnet School both increased their QDI scores by 17 points. Sale Elementary International Studies Magnet School and Stokes-Beard Elementary Technology and Communication Magnet School raised their QDI by 12 points collectively.  


More than half the district's fourth-graders scored proficient and advanced in language arts, and more than half the fifth-graders scored proficient and advanced in mathematics. 


But students at Columbus Middle School showed gains in language arts and a decrease from 56 percent to 49 percent of students scoring proficient or above in math.  


Columbus High School's graduation rate continues to drop, from 83.3 percent in 2009-2010, to 72.4 in 2010-2011 and 70 percent in 2011-2012.  


The average ACT score at CHS continues to drop as well, down from 17.2 for the class of 2011 to 16.2 for the class of 2012. This year's state average was 18.7 


The district plans to improve test scores through curriculum coordinators and achievement coaches at each school, professional development for teachers and intervention for at-risk students, Gardner said.  


"As a school district, we realize from several years of test data that Columbus students are having challenges meeting the state's growth expectations," CMSD Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell stated in a press release. "One major reason is that the instructional methods used in classrooms overall do not match the rigor expected on state tests." 


She said a new research-based teaching and learning initiative will help correct this "mismatch" by helping teachers change their teaching strategies. 


"Student achievement gains won't happen overnight, but as teachers receive quality professional development, we fully expect better results going forward," Liddell said.  




Lowndes County School District 


The Lowndes County School District raised its performance last year from successful to high-performing but did not release its 2011-2012 QDI score, which will become public information once released by MDE. ACT scores and graduation rates also were not released. 


Assistant Superinten-dent Dr. Peggy Rogers did not give specifics but said all third through eighth-graders scored above state proficient and advanced averages in language arts and math.  


High-schoolers' SATP scores were also above state average in all areas except Algebra 1, she stated in a press release.  


She credited principals, teachers and staff, along with extensive remediation and research-based programs, for the "significant growth" seen on the MCT2 and SATP tests.  


"The instructional staff and students of LCSD continue to make gains in academic achievement," Assistant Superintendent Dr. Robin Ballard said. "We are confident that these strides will carry over to college and career readiness with Common Core State Standards. I am consistently impressed with the professional manner with which our teachers approach challenges, change and collaboration." 


Starkville School District 


The Starkville School District rose from academic watch to successful last year -- a status which school officials expect to maintain, based upon the 2011-2012 test scores. A rank of successful would be a "C" under MDE's new grading system. 


District Superintendent Dr. Lewis Holloway said in a press statement that he is disappointed the state ranks successful as a "C," but it's important to remember school is "much more than a single test" and individual students and schools saw "great gains." 


The biggest increases were seen in fourth-grade language arts, where 51 percent of students scored proficient and above, and fifth-grade math, where 62 percent scored proficient or above.  


The percentage of students scoring in the top two categories of proficient and advanced improved at every grade level in language arts and almost every grade level in math on the MCT 2, reported district test coordinator Julie Fancher.  


Students at Henderson and Ward Stewart Schools posted the highest levels of achievement and growth. The district, along with all schools except Armstrong Middle School, met state growth requirements.  


"The district is pleased with our students' results in the third, fourth and fifth grades," Holloway said. "Our teachers, students and administrators have a lot to be proud of, and our parents and our community should be (proud), too. It's obvious they worked hard throughout the year, and I think their test results reflect that."  


Starkville High School's graduation rate improved from 68.4 percent in 2010-2011 to 71.8 percent in 2011-2012. 


The district plans to improve performance this year by providing each child with a customized education plan, implemented through an online testing program, which will provide parents and teachers with a detailed report of each child's strengths and weaknesses and an instruction plan for home and school.  


The district also plans to implement a reading intervention program for struggling readers, academically at-risk students, students performing below grade-level and special education students. 


They're also hoping to provide parents and students with home access to computer-based learning programs and provide laptops for all the district's teachers by November.  


"With the availability of today's technology, we are teaching smarter in a format that digital learners understand," Holloway said. 


He said the district remains committed to educating its students, now more than ever.  


"Our teachers work really hard," he said. "Most of them are doing what they have always dreamed of doing, but never imagined it would be this difficult. Regardless, they are not giving up, and the district isn't either." 


The Oktibbeha County School District did not respond to requests for test results.


Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.



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