Labels show little change

Published 12:06 am Thursday, September 15, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Natchez High School’s Rachel Young, 16, performs class work in her U.S. government class Wednesday afternoon. Natchez High’s overall state tests scores have made significant improvements from previous years, but are still listed as “low performing.”

NATCHEZ — The Natchez-Adams School District has been labeled “low performing” — basically the same label as last year — for the 2010-2011 school year, according to unofficial state accountability results released this week.

While the district’s status failed to get an upgrade, three out of four schools showed improvement, and all schools scored better than they did two years ago.

“We’re certainly not where we want to be, but we’re showing growth, and that’s what its all about,” NASD Curriculum Director Charlotte Franklin said.

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The rating is the sixth of a state-issued seven-tier rating system that ranks Mississippi public schools in alignment with the rest of the nation.

Other categories include star, high performing, successful, academic watch, at risk of failing and failing.

Natchez High School’s Creseda Crawford teaches students during her U.S. government class Wednesday.

The Mississippi Department of Education reversed the labels “low performing” and “at risk of failing” this year, so while the label is different, the criteria is the same. Based on last year’s labels, the district would still be considered “at risk of failing,” said Pete Smith, a spokesperson for the Mississippi Department of Education.

Smith and Franklin admitted the reversal in the two labels was confusing and the decision to reverse the labels came from the state school board.

Mississippi schools have been rated on the current system for three years.

Individual schools also received ratings. Natchez High School, Robert Lewis Middle School and McLaurin Elementary School were ranked as “academic watch.”

The labels were a jump in the right direction for Natchez High and Robert Lewis, both which were previously ranked “at risk of failing,” which is now considered “low performing.”

While McLaurin dropped one tier from “successful” to “academic watch,” the downgrade is still better than the school’s 2009 status of “at risk of failing.”

Morgantown Elementary School, which was ranked “at risk of failing” last year, was ranked as “low performing” this year. The label demonstrates no change because the labels were reversed this year.

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

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

The district’s QDI gained seven points, despite its stagnant accountability label.

NASD improved to QDI of 122, up from 115 in the 2009-2010 school year and from 114 in 2008-2009.

The biggest jump in QDI — 24 points — came from Natchez High. The high school’s QDI increased to 138 up from last year’s 114 and 117 in 2008-2009.

Natchez High Principal Cleveland Moore credited improvements in test scores to the efforts of teachers and students and to new efforts to individualize lesson plans.

“(Teachers have) figured out how to target strengths and weaknesses of individual students and kind of gotten away from whole-group instruction,” Moore said.

He said technology, including computer programs that break down test scores into objectives teachers can use in class, has also helped guide individualized instruction.

Moore said teachers and administrators stressed the importance of state tests through the entire year this past school year.

“Teachers and students really put forth a tremendous effort last year to improve,” Moore said.

The QDI at Robert Lewis increased to 125 up from 112 last year and 118 in 2008-2009.

The QDI at McLaurin dropped to 128 down from last year’s 134. McLaurin’s QDI this year, however, still demonstrates an increase in test scores from two years ago based on the elementary school’s QDI in 2008-2009 of 119.

The QDI is calculated based on a formula that awards the district points for each student scoring basic, proficient or advanced on their state tests. More points are awarded for the number of students who score at higher levels.

Franklin said the performance of special education students is included in the district and school’s results, and NASD has a higher number of special education students than other districts its size, according to Mississippi Department of Education data.

State accountability results also measure growth.

The growth model is an estimate of students’ current performance based on their past performance.

The district as a whole did not meet its growth benchmark.

Morgantown and Robert Lewis also did not meet their growth benchmark provided by the state.

McLaurin and Natchez High met their growth benchmark.

Natchez High’s High School Completion Index — based in part on graduation rates — took a steep dip to 120.1 down from a 164 in 2009-2010 and a 137.8 in 2008-2009.

The HSCI is calculated for students five years after entering ninth grade and recognizes credentials other than a standard diploma, such as an occupational diploma or GED.

The graduation rate dropped for the third year in a row from a 68.7 in 2008-2009, a 67.7 in 2009-2010 to this year’s 62.3.