Local school makes the grade on SATs

August 10, 2010 9:50:00 AM

Jason Browne - [email protected]


Annunciation Catholic School has quietly been putting up some impressive numbers for years. But we''re not talking sports statistics. These are SAT scores. 


"Our children are testing above the national average in almost every area consistently through the last four years," said Principal Barbara Calland. 


Stanford Achievement Test scores at the school have either increased or held steady above national averages going back to 2006. The test is administered each September to every student in the second through sixth grades, and results show Annunciation either matching or exceeding even the remaining 12 schools in the Catholic Diocese of Jackson. 


Last year, Annunciation students'' average score on the science and the listening/thinking sections of the SAT were at or above the 80th percentile. Language skills were above the 75th percentile and reading, math and social studies were above the 70th percentile. 


The school''s lowest score, spelling, was above the 60th percentile, lower than the diocese average but well above the national average. 


Administrators attribute the test scores to innovative teaching initiatives implemented over the last five years; several of which mirror methods currently being employed in the Columbus Municipal School District. 




Multiple intelligences 


The first is a teaching method known as Multiple Intelligences, which holds that eight learning styles exist and an individual student uses all of them, but is more suited to particular styles. Karen Overstreet, curriculum coordinator at Annunciation, says the school''s teachers are trained to present subjects in multiple forms -- such as linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinestetic, musical, etc. -- as well as to identify intelligences in individual students. 


"We try to teach the same concept using maybe music or poetry or acting. Whatever will work so every child has the opportunity to learn," said Overstreet. 


The theory is applied to learning on the front and back ends. 




New strategies 


"You remember jingles, so singing the digestive tract helps a kid remember. When he is tested on the human body he''ll be running that song through his head," said Overstreet. "If (a student has) done a PowerPoint presentation several times, to explain your understanding of the Holocaust, don''t do a PowerPoint. This time do a diorama or a skit to show me you understand it." 


Annunciation recently partnered with Cook Elementary Fine Arts Magnet School to secure a $10,000 grant from the Mississippi Arts Council for a program called Arts In the Classroom. The money will fund training for teachers who will learn to teach academic benchmarks with the help of dance, art, drama and music. 


"What we''re learning is new strategies for teachers for supporting benchmarks through hands-on activities. It''s just to help a teacher reach that child who''s an artist or a musician," said Calland. "If you don''t engage their brains in several activities at the same time, most of these kids are not going to retain that knowledge." 




Engaging students 


The staff at Annunciation openly engage the students. They explain Multiple Intelligences and learning through art and even take suggestions from the children. In fact, the school also employs a method known as Autonomous Learner which shifts some of the responsibility for learning to students by encouraging them to seek out subjects which intrigue them. 


Giving students autonomy in certain cases to enrich their learning experience is a method also employed at Sale Elementary International Studies Magnet School. 


Calland says many reasons can be identified to explain the success Annunciation students experience on standardized tests and in middle schools after they leave Annunciation, but economics is not one of them.  




Diverse enrollment 


Studies have shown children from affluent families often grow up in more stimulating environments and are therefore more intellectually developed when they begin school. Calland admits that description fits many Annunciation students. However, she says the student population at the school, which stood at 124 last year, is very diverse, including 9 percent of students who qualify as low income and receive tuition assistance. 


Annunciation, which accepts children as young as 4 years old, added the seventh grade to its ranks this year. Students from the second grade up will take the SAT in September to indicate how much knowledge they retained over the summer and what areas of instruction need extra focus. The school does not use Mississippi Department of Education tests or frameworks, instead choosing to follow national standards. 




SAT at other schools 


Heritage Academy and Immanuel Center for Christian Education also use the Stanford Achievement Test. Headmaster Tommy Gunn says Heritage kindergarten through seventh-grade students taking the SAT routinely score in the top 20 percentile in Mississippi. Immanuel reports 70 percent of its kindergarten through sixth grade students score above the 50th percentile on the SAT. 


Columbus and Lowndes County school districts report Mississippi Curriculum Test 2 scores for grades three to eight, a state-mandated test. Scores for the MCT 2 have been returned to school districts and will be released to the public on Aug. 20.