September 13, 2013 11:35:18 AM
Carl Smith - firstname.lastname@example.org
Oktibbeha County School District and Starkville School District earned 'C' grades from the Mississippi Department of Education based on last year's state testing scores.
Less than a year after the state took over Oktibbeha County School District, Conservator Margie Pulley and her staff resurrected the district's academic measurement by bringing the system's two high schools out of failing ranks and improving its overall score to a 'C.'
In Starkville, SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway's teachers and administrators have one school, Ward-Stewart Elementary, rated as a 'B' by MDE and another, Henderson Elementary, whose Quality Distribution Index score is just two points shy of the same designation.
Under the state's previous accountability ranking system, 'C' grades represented successful schools and districts, while 'B' grades translated to "high performing."
QDI scores are determined using results from individual schools' Mississippi Curriculum Test 2 and the Subject Area Testing Program. For the 2012-2013 academic year, West Oktibbeha County Elementary School earned the highest QDI score in the county -- the school's 173 mark decreased 3 points from the previous year -- while Ward-Stewart's 170 QDI represents a 6-point increase for SSD's highest-scoring school.
WOCES also earned a 'B' rating from MDE even though it was the only county school to see a decrease in its QDI score.
The system's two high schools, East Oktibbeha County High School and West Oktibbeha County High School, saw significant increases to its QDI scores: EOCHS, which previously earned a failing designation after posting the district's only sub-100 score, earned a 113 QDI and a 'D' designation from MDE. Its counterpart in the western portion of the county also went from failing to a 'D' grade, increasing its QDI from 101 to 138. East Oktibbeha County Elementary School posted a 138 QDI, reflecting a 2-point increase. It was given a 'C' designation by MDE.
The county school district posted a four-year graduation rate of 67.2 percent, but a gap exists between EOCHS (75.4 percent) and WOCHS (58.9 percent) figures. OCSD improved its overall grade from a 'D' to a 'C,' raising its QDI 10 points to 136. Its five-year graduation rate was reported at 64.6 percent.
Henderson's 164 QDI represents another 6-point gain for a SSD school. Its fifth graders also posted some of the highest scores and largest gains in the district: 66 percent scored proficient or advanced in mathematics, an increase of 8 percentage points from 2012. The school's current QDI score and 2-point gap between a 'B' and 'C' rating is the same situation Ward-Stewart faced in 2012.
While Henderson and Ward-Stewart experienced QDI gains, Armstrong Middle School and Starkville High School's respective scores continued trending downward. AMS, a 'D'-rated school, posted a 146 QDI, which reflects a 3-point slide from 2012's figure. Starkville High School earned a 157 QDI and a 'C' rating from MDE. For the 2011-2012 academic year, the high school posted a 163 QDI.
Both schools maintained their respective letter grades from last year.
SHS' four-year graduation rate was measured at 66.6 percent, while its five-year rate was reported at 76.3 percent. The five-year rate represents an almost 5 percent increase from the previous year.
SSD received the same 155 QDI score and 'C' rating as it did last year.
Growth requirements were met by all four county schools and three SSD schools, minus AMS.
Pulley said she was extremely proud of the effort shown in the past year by district students, teachers and parents.
"They bought into what we are doing," she said. "We made data-driven decisions (aimed at increasing student test scores). We progress-monitored our students in four-week intervals; held extended day schools and Saturday schools; and used professional development (for instructors.
"The teachers did an outstanding job in day-to-day instruction. Where the rubber meets the road is in the classroom," Pulley added.
The state department of education took over OCSD last year, removed its school board and replaced former Superintendent James Covington with a conservator after the Mississippi Commission on School Accreditation found the district in violation of almost 30 standards, including a record of poor student performance, inaccurate and unreported personnel and payroll documents and failure to report complete and accurate board meeting minutes. Pulley was named the district's conservator in December, replacing Interim Conservator Jayne Sargent
MDE has approved the district's fixes for 11 technical violations, Pulley said, while about eight proposals are still pending.
Although SSD earned what was previously considered a 'successful' designation, officials Thursday set their sights on continuing to grow the district's test scores, increase graduation rates and improve educational delivery.
"I'm very pleased with Henderson's and Ward-Stewart's gains. Those are significant and are a result of the hard work our principals have put into the teaching and testing processes," Holloway said. "I don't think it reflects how good the district is, though, from the students to the teachers and leadership. I think the district, as a whole, is better focused now on all levels, even at the parental level."
SSD will continue to utilize various programs, from assessment tools like Measures of Academic Progress to online supplements such as Compass Odyssey, to tailor educational efforts specifically to students' needs.
"With programs like Compass Odyssey, they give parents helpful tools," said Jody Woodrum, a SSD assistant superintendent. "We tell our parents that education has to be a partnership."
The two school systems will merge July 1, 2015.
Starkville Armstrong Middle...D
West Oktibbeha Elementary...B
East Oktibbeha Elementary...C
East Oktibbeha High...D
West Oktibbeha High...C
A - Star; B - High Performing; C - Sucessful; D - Academic Watch; F - Failing
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch