Natchez High students failing at high rate

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 18, 2008

NATCHEZ — Nearly half of the Natchez High School students taking English II were failing in the second nine weeks period based on test scores.

The numbers were equally as bad for the first nine weeks and for Algebra I students.

Principal James Loftin presented the statistics to the school board at their Thursday meeting as part of a routine report from district principals.

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Loftin is tracking the scores in hopes of improving them before annual Subject Area Testing used to determine graduation and the school’s state rankings.

Of the 216 students taking Algebra I in the first nine weeks, 14.4 percent failed, Loftin said. In the second nine weeks, that number went up to 26 percent.

In English II, the first nine weeks saw a 36 percent failure rate, while the second nine weeks saw a 48.6 percent rate.

And the statistics exclude one class, in which the grades were so low they weren’t even posted, Loftin said.

More disappointing to the board members than the numbers though, was the fact that parents have not come to the school upset at the latest grades.

“They are hard-nosed numbers, cutting numbers, piercing numbers,” Board Chairman Norris Edney said. “But obviously they are true numbers.”

And the district must work with them, he said.

Loftin said he has instructed teachers to slow the pace at which they are teaching. He discovered after reviewing the scores that teachers were working hard to follow a pacing guide, but students were falling behind.

“Teachers were doing no additional re-teaching,” he said. “But that’s what we’ve made mandatory now.”

Loftin is also planning a practice Subject Area Test soon to again assess where the weaknesses are.

The board also heard from the principals of Robert Lewis Middle School, Fallin Career and Technology Center and Morgantown Elementary.

RLMS Principal Sekufele Lewanika said he was beginning to see slow progress at his school. Lewanika, new to the school, said they’ve spent much of the year cleaning up problems and perceptions that were already there.

“Now, our students have to focus on academics to prepare for the next level,” he said.

Two worries that topped his list though were teacher absenteeism and lack of classroom space.

He said he averages approximately five teachers that are absent every day.

And three PE classes meet in the gym at the same time because there isn’t room elsewhere. He plans to request mobile units in the future.

At Fallin, teachers are working to incorporate Subject Area Test curriculum into the vocational learning, Director Linda Grafton said.

Approximately 35 percent of the Fallin students who needed to retest on a Subject Area Test in order to graduate have done so and passed, Grafton said.

At Morgantown Elementary more than 100 students are involved in an after school tutoring program.

Teachers are working to prepare students for the MCT II — a new test to be given this spring. But their stress level is rising, Principal Fred Marsalis said, because no one knows just how hard the new test will be.

The school board also heard a report from Natchez High School senior Chelsea Bennett, who is a member of the State Superintendent’s Youth Advisory Board.

Bennett attended a summit in Jackson this week focused on reducing dropout rates.

She was one of 1,700 students who attended and brainstormed ideas to reduce dropouts.

Bennett said she felt the summit went very well and she enjoyed her role with the group.

“It made us feel like what we were doing was all worth it,” she said.

“We will go forward and we will reduce this goal. We will reduce dropout rates by 50 percent in the next five years.”