Thursday, October 30, 2008
County schools evaluate scores
By BARRY BURLESON
The state tests got tougher and for the most part students in the Marshall County School District were up to the challenge.
Mississippi’s old assessment system ranked 43rd in level of difficulty. The new Mississippi Curriculum Tests and Subject Area Tests have upped that level of difficulty to 12th nationally.
“These assessments were much more difficult, but our students, on the whole, performed well,” said Jerry Moore, director of instructional services.
No school levels will be issued this year due to the revamped tests. However, districts will receive mock levels in December.
Moore and superintendent of education Don Randolph were particularly pleased with MCT (grades four-eight) results in reading/language arts. Marshall County’s proficiency level was at 56 percent in grade four, 59 percent in grade five, 58 percent in grade six, 53 percent in grade seven, and 60 percent in grade eight – all well above the No Child Left Behind proficiency requirements for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). However, those proficiency requirements will increase each year, creating more challenges.
“Our scores (in reading/language arts) were really up overall, even with the more difficult tests,” Moore said.
He said four years ago the scores in reading/language arts were not good and the district has been attacking the problem.
“The key was staff development,” Randolph said. “Applaud our teachers; they’ve done a good job.”
Moore said professional development helped train the teachers to change the way they were teaching and the way they assessed the children.
“It paid off,” Moore said. “As far as reading/language arts, we need to keep doing what’s working.”
The focus, he said, now turns to improvements in math.
“We didn’t do horribly in math districtwide,” Moore said, “but specific grades really hurt us in math. We know the problem areas, and overall math is an issue.”
He said due to the emphasis placed on reading scores the past few years, “maybe there was not great urgency in math.”
“But we can’t ignore one for the other.”
Another high point for Marshall County is that two schools, H.W. Byers High School and Byhalia Elementary School, met AYP in all areas for two consecutive years and are no longer considered in “improvement.” Neither school will be under No Child Left Behind sanctions.
“Four years ago Byers (grades 7-12) and Byhalia Elementary were placed in school improvement, which is measured on AYP two or more consecutive years in particular areas,” Moore said. “Typically, it takes five or six years to get out of it. They did it in four. They met AYP two times in a row and pulled out of improvement. They are under no sanctions any longer, and that’s a very good thing.”
At the same time, Byhalia High School slipped into “improvement” because they did not test enough people.
“They met AYP in all areas academically,” Moore said, “but it was missed due to the 95 percent rule, that is, the number of students tested.”
The law, he said, states everyone in classes must be tested, including special needs children.
Byhalia High School will move into “improvement year 1.” This sanction means BHS must offer school choice for two years, meaning parents can choose to send their children to another school in the Marshall County district.
English II and Algebra I tests were also revamped this school year in the Subject Area Tests. High school students must pass tests in algebra I, biology, U.S. history and English II in order to graduate.
He said much like the MCT scores, the district would be strong in two subject areas at one high school, and then another high school would be low in the those areas. The highs and lows varied at the individual schools.
“It boils down to good old instruction,” Moore said.
“Our proficiency levels were above where we were supposed to be but we were still low in certain subject areas.
“Where we were low, we’re going to those particular teachers and working with them.”
He said the district has already done some Subject Area Test training for teachers - going over the new tests and providing some tools to improve their instruction. But that training will intensify.
“Last year we didn’t do a lot with them (the high school teachers),” Moore said “We did some, but not as much as with elementary. This year we’re hitting the high schools hard on training.”
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