Thursday, Demceber 10, 2009
School ratings vary; two successful
By SUE WATSON
Some schools in the Marshall County and Holly Springs districts are successful, but most are on academic watch, low performing, at risk of failing, or failing.
That’s according to recently released 2009-2010 accountability ratings by the Mississippi Department of Education.
Two schools scoring the highest in the two districts were H.W. Byers High School and Potts Camp Attendance Center, both rated as Successful schools.
The Marshall County School District is overall rated for Academic Watch and Holly Springs School District was rated overall for At Risk of Failing.
The new school accountability model, fully implemented this year, rates schools from the best to the worst – Star Schools, performing well above the national average; High Performing, exceeding the national average; Successful, meeting the national average; Academic Watch, just below the national average; Low Performing, in the failing category but whose students showed sufficient growth; At Risk of Failing, just above failing but have not shown growth; and Failing, the lowest performing.
Two schools, Byhalia High School and Holly Springs Intermediate School, were rated for Academic Watch. Byhalia Elementary was rated as Low Performing.
Schools rated At Risk of Failing included Galena School, Byhalia Middle School and H.W. Byers Elementary.
Mary Reid School was not rated because it only goes up to third grade, which means it cannot show growth from third to fourth. Fourth graders go to the Potts Camp High School campus.
The new rankings replace the 0-5 ratings used by the Mississippi Department of Education previously. The new model makes it possible to compare the rankings of Mississippi schools with others across the nation, while the old model allowed for comparisons of schools in Mississippi alone.
The accountability ratings are a new system of measuring schools based on state achievement tests, academic growth and high school graduation/completion rates and based on test score data from the 2008-2009 school year. Mississippi’s curriculum tests have been upgraded so that they meet the standards for testing nationally, according to Holly Springs School District Superintendent Irene Walton.
She remained upbeat about the school district’s overall rating of At Risk of Failing, which means just below the national average.
Individual schools are improving, too, she said.
“Last year the Intermediate School would have rated At Risk (if you were to use the numbers from the old formula), but this year is on Academic Watch,” she said. “So, the Intermediate School moved up a level to Academic Watch.”
The junior high would have been failing last year and is failing this year, but test scores increased at the school this year, Walton said. The QDI, a formula that measures how students performed on their standardized tests, increased by 26 QDI points, just three points short of points needed to move up to At Risk of Failing rank.
Holly Springs High School was not rated because Algebra I students did not have growth scores this year, she said.
Test scores at the high school were better in general, she said, with the number of students passing state tests increased in every subject area - Algebra I, English II and Biology - except U.S. History, where the passing rate was already at 97 percent and stayed there.
Walton said data gathered and studied by a research group show the majority of school districts in the state are at Academic Watch or At Risk of Failing (together accounting for over 50 percent of the school districts).
Thirty-seven districts (24.83 percent) are on Academic Watch, 44 (29.53 percent) are rated At Risk of Failing, 14.09 percent are High Performing, and 1.34 percent are Star districts, she said.
Next year Holly Springs High School will be able to measure growth which requires two years of test score data. Holly Springs students take Algebra I in the eighth grade and in the 10th, whereas most other districts take the test in the 9th grade, she said.
Walton said progress is being made in the schools.
“We’re struggling in some areas like the junior high,” she said. “But we have improved significantly at both schools included in the state model.”
The school district has been accredited after going through an audit two years ago which required the district to develop a five-year plan and set goals administratively. The State Department of Education approved the upgraded five-year plan last year and did not require any extra things be done, she said, and all citations were cleared.
“They have given us good comments and they have said we are improving,” Walton said. “We want to make sure to follow the five-year plan and involve the community.”
All-in-all, the Holly Springs School District is optimistic, although the district has improvements to make. There are steady improvements every year, Walton said.
“We are improving and we have the data to show it,” she said. “The audit two years ago was about accreditation. We have been fully accredited for two years now.”
Walton said the district will follow through with its strategic plan and goals and wants to move up one ranking a year to become ranked Successful and ultimately a Star School District.
Jerry Moore, with the Marshall County School District, said the district is proud it made Academic Watch overall, but has a lot of work to do at the elementary schools.
“We’re proud of the fact we came up with Academic Watch as our rating, but the bottom line is our three high schools put us there,” he said. “All our other schools performed poorly. We were shocked at the scores at the elementary level and had expected their scores to come up.”
Moore said the school district has given the teachers and administrators the tools they need and now it is up to the employees and the community to bring achievement scores up at the elementary schools. He said he does not want the community to think that improvement is not needed at the elementary schools.
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