September 20, 2018 11:58:23 AM
Editor's Note: The Mississippi Department of Education posted a notice on its website on Thursday indicating these accountability ratings are not official because they had not been approved by State Board of Education. MDE did not post this notice until after The Dispatch's press time, although it released the embargoed results to the media earlier this week.
The Mississippi Department of Education released its school district accountability grades Thursday, which showed improvements for three school districts in the Golden Triangle.
Although CMSD maintained its D rating, all schools that held an F rating last year improved. Columbus Middle School and Joe Cook Elementary both rose from an F to a D. Franklin Academy had the largest jump, moving from an F to a C.
Sale Elementary jumped one grade to a C, whereas Fairview Elementary maintained a D rating and Columbus High School fell from a B to a C. Stokes Beard Elementary, now the district's only F-rated school, fell from a C in 2017.
CMSD received 516 total points, out of a possible 1,000, which was an increase from last year's 489. To have earned an overall C rating, the district needed 536 points.
Accountability scores, which rank schools and school districts on an A-F scale, are based on a several factors. According to MDE, the scores for the 2017-18 school year are based on how well students perform and progress on end-of-year assessments 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 enrollment classes.
"Looking at the data, it was one of the reasons I wanted to come to Columbus," first-year CMSD Superintendent Cherie Labat said. "I knew my experiences could help the district move forward. I think the increase is a great start to a new beginning. We are in a great place to push the district forward."
Franklin Academy had the largest increase in student achievement, which Labat attributed to Principal Tawan Williams.
"Mrs. Williams has done a great job," Labat said. "She's a diligent principal. She's focused and she's always open to change and what it takes to improve student achievement."
With the positive increases, Labat said the morale of staff and faculty have the potential to push CMSD's improvement further.
"With our recent jump, we feel the momentum is great," Labat said. "Our teachers are excited, and they know that we have what it takes to go to the next level. Given the resources and the encouragement, this district is ready to move forward."
Labat said in order to do that, the schools have increased professional development and are analyzing data throughout the year. Students will take three separate assessments throughout the year, similar to end-of-year tests, so teachers can identify and hone in on individual weaknesses, she added.
"To be in the mid-range of a D, and knowing what we've done in the past three months, I feel like great things will happen," Labat said.
Labat said the decrease at Stokes Beard was, in part, due to a key subject-area teacher leaving the district and teacher turnover in general. She added the district is working with local universities to recruit and retain teachers. The largest investment the district will make going forward is the teachers and staff, she said.
"We're investing a lot of time in our teachers," Labat said. "Making sure they receive high quality professional development in science, reading and math. It's more important that we are really building the capacity of our teachers and recruiting and retaining the best teachers."
Lowndes County School District maintained its B accountability rating this year, but narrowed the gap of achieving an A to eight points.
LCSD received 660 total points, out of a possible 1,000, which was an increase from last year's 634. To have earned an overall A rating, the district needed 668 points.
Caledonia Elementary School maintained its A rating, while New Hope Elementary rose from a C to an A. Both Caledonia Middle School and New Hope High school maintained B ratings, while West Lowndes Elementary rose from a C to B.
The only schools to decrease were New Hope Middle School dropping one grade to a C and Caledonia High School, which fell to a B. West Lowndes High School increased point-wise, but maintained its D rating.
"We've gone up every year," LCSD Deputy Superintendent Robin Ballard said. "We've had huge gains this year and most of the gains were in our elementary schools."
Ballard attributed New Hope Elementary's improvement to a key leadership change at the campus. Christy Adams, who previously served as assistant principal at A-rated Caledonia Elementary, transferred to principal of New Hope Elementary this past year.
"For the last four years, it was a steady decline," Ballard said. "... We knew that culture of high expectations would follow with (Adams to New Hope). She went in and evaluated the school and it just all worked in concert for the big, big A."
For West Lowndes Elementary's improvement, Ballard credited common assessments, where all tests given to students are the same throughout the entire grade.
Similar to other area districts, Ballard said teachers are testing students on state standards throughout the year so they can focus instruction on the areas of concern.
To prepare for next year, Ballard said the district is already analyzing the data from MDE.
"We are confident we are going to get that eight points this year," Ballard said. "We are studying the data more."
Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District maintained its C overall rating but increased its district accountability to within one point of a B.
The largest increase was Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary School, rated an F last year but jumped to a C rating this year. West Elementary School maintained an A and Starkville High School remained a B school. Overstreet Elementary from a C to a B and Armstrong Middle jumped from a D to a C.
No district campus decreased in its rating from last year.
Overall, SOCSD received 598 total points, out of a possible 1,000, which was an increase from last year's 559. To have earned an overall B rating, the district needed 599 points.
"We're really pleased with the performance of our schools," SOCSD Superintendent Eddie Peasant said. "For the most part, they all grew in several areas. We're really proud of the work that our teachers and kids did."
Peasant said in order to increase student achievement, the district focused primarily on individual student instruction, as well as on staff and faculty.
"We did benchmark testing three times throughout the year, and assessed them the same way they are on the state tests," Peasant said. "(We were) making sure we were testing the standards that are measured in our state."
Not only have teachers been analyzing data from those tests, but Peasant said he has encouraged them to review data for each student daily.
"I think focus on good teacher instruction, also understanding how to interpret data," Peasant said. "I mean interpreting data student by student, and understanding the weaknesses and strengths of each individual student and addressing those. And using the data to guide instruction was the primary reason for success this past year."
Peasant added that providing professional development for teachers was another prime factor for the district's increase.
"We put a heavy focus on teachers understanding their craft better," Peasant said. "I believe nothing is better than great teaching."
Peasant said increasing an accountability score takes great effort but maintaining a high score is also something to acknowledge.
"We have some room to still continue to grow," Peasant said. "We are expecting to be able to show more growth next year. ... We are a C district, and that's the bottom line, but we were just one point away from being a B."
Julie Fancher, who served her first year as principal of Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary, said she was excited about more than 100 point increase from last year. From 2016 to 2017, the once B-rated school had fallen to an F.
When Fancher first took the helm, she started the year by addressing the school's culture and climate. She wanted to change the morale of the teachers, students and parents. To do that, she provided professional development for teachers, held celebrations for students and teachers, invited parents to school events and tried to the get the community involved with the school. Fancher said all of those factors helped contribute to the jump HWS students made.
Moving into next year, Fancher said teachers have already started collaborating together for lesson plans and tips to increase student achievement.
"Our teachers have worked hard," Fancher said. "We've gotten new teachers that have come on board this year and they have all jumped on board too. Our teachers are committed to our students here and we will continue to work and strive for excellence."
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