New ratings rank Natchez schools unfavorably

Published 1:04 am Monday, November 23, 2009

NATCHEZ — New accountability ratings for Mississippi’s public schools rank the Natchez-Adams School District and all scored schools within it as “At risk of failing.”

The rating is the sixth on a new seven-tier rating system implemented this year. Other categories are Star, High performing, Successful, Academic watch, Low performing and Failing.

The scoring system compares Mississippi students to national standards. Reaching a high ranking in the new system is more difficult than it was under the Level 1-5 rating system used in previous years, state officials have said.

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The rankings are based on three factors — test score performance, a growth target measuring the improvement students make on state tests and graduation rates.

Test score performance is judged based on a formula called a Quality Distribution Index.

And, in terms of QDI, the Natchez schools showed improvement, Superintendent Anthony Morris pointed out.

The state did not officially release QDI numbers last year, but did provide districts with the formula, encouraging them to do the math themselves.

Last year the Natchez district’s QDI was 107 on a scale of 1 to 300.

This year the QDI is 114.

Districts and schools with a QDI of 100 to 132 who do not meet growth are labeled “At risk of failing.”

Each school within the district either held relatively steady or showed a slight QDI improvement over last year as well. The scores were:

4McLaurin Elementary — 119.55 in 2008; 119 this year.

4Morgantown Elementary —103.83 in 2008; 104 this year.

4 Robert Lewis Middle School — 115.03 last year to 118 this year.

4Natchez High School — 116.11 last year; 117 this year.

The primary schools are not tested and do not receive ratings. Decimal-point calculations were used only by local administrators on last year’s numbers. The state did not report any decimal points on this year’s numbers.

No school in the district met its growth target.

And the NHS graduation rate is 67.8 percent. The graduation rate is determined by a formula that credits the district for students that graduate, complete a GED or occupational diploma, receive a certificate of attendance or stay in school. Students who dropout cost the district points.

The Natchez district could move up in next year’s ratings if its QDI surpasses 138 or if the school meets growth targets.

The standard of achievement required to move from one accountability label to the next will steadily increase during the next four years.

Superintendent Anthony Morris said he was glad that the QDI improved over last year, but that more work was needed.

“It’s going to be a constant process to get better,” he said. “Things aren’t gong to change overnight.”

Director of Curriculum and Instruction Charlotte Franklin said with new educational programs available to students, she believes the scores will continue to progress up the scale.

“We don’t plan on moving down at all. We plan on moving forward,” Franklin said.

Franklin said numerous programs are in place to improve district-wide academic performance.

A content specialist in English is working closely with teachers at RLMS and NHS on professional development.

“She finds materials, meets with them on a regular basis and talks with them about what they can do to improve, and it’s working quite well,” Franklin said.

Franklin said other programs and learning materials being used within the school system include a 21st Century grant and supplemental education services which offer after-school programs at Morgantown and RLMS.

Not only are students being prepared for next year’s evaluation, but teachers are as well, she said.

“There has been a lot of professional development at all the schools,” Franklin said. “We have consultants who have good track records and they are providing professional development for the teachers based on the needs that were identified (in students’ Mississippi Curriculum Test 2 scores.)”

Other programs students and teachers are using to learn and teach in their classes include Kids College and Accelerated Reader and Accelerated Math programs.

Morris said each public school in the county has set aside 20 minutes of each day for students to read without distraction.

The programs and technology being used within the school district and the progress Morris said he sees in not only students, but also in teachers makes him hopeful about next year’s scores.

“That’s one of the reasons I think we are on the right track,” he said. “We have more tools at our fingertips. But we do have to maximize our proficiency to make sure we’re using those tools to the maximum level.”

Morris and Franklin said they accept the new scoring system but see many flaws and inconsistencies in the seven-part ranking system.

“One of the things I dislike about the whole (system) is you have four out of the seven (categories) that are negative,” Morris said.

“This system is based on our state tests, and not every state has the same test. Every state has the freedom to develop its own accountability model.”

Morris said parents are welcome to come into their children’s schools and see what’s happening because the more parents see, the more they understand the progress being made in the schools.

“As we go through this, the rules of the game change constantly,” he said. “But it’s the ballgame that we’re in, so we have to play by (the state’s) rules.”