Mixed results for Natchez schools on benchmarks

Published 12:12 am Friday, April 11, 2014

NATCHEZ Two schools in the Natchez-Adams School District would improve if students perform the same on the annual state tests in May as they did on benchmark tests given in March, while two others would keep an “F” rating.

District officials applauded the improvement of the two elementary schools, Frazier and West, at the monthly school board meeting Thursday evening, but expressed concern for the remainder of the schools whose students have not shown growth on assessments throughout the year.

Students have been taking assessments throughout the year at the end of each nine weeks. The tests serve as a precursor to how students will eventually perform on the Mississippi Curriculum Test 2 and Subject Area Testing Program state tests in May.

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Similar tests administered a month before students took state tests last school year predicted the same “F” rating eventually given by the state.

Superintendent Frederick Hill presented the results of the last benchmark assessment that will be given this year, which was administered to students March 24.

“This is going to give us a snapshot of where we would be if we don’t change anything and these tests were to count as the real ones,” Hill said. “You’re going to see some good things happening, and some bad things happening … but overall we’re headed in the right direction.”

The right things occurred at Frazier and West elementary schools, where Hill credited motivated and data-driven principals for their work to turn around two schools that received “F” ratings last school year.

Students at Frazier Elementary School showed improvements across the board, which earned the school a “D” rating, which was 17 points away from a “C” rating.

“I truly believe we can do much more at Frazier in the time we have left,” Hill said. “I think it’s quite doable they get a ‘C’ rating.”

Students at West Elementary School showed improvements in every subject area, earning the school a “C” rating, which was 19 points away from a “B” rating.

“If I had to put my finger on a school that’s going to be shining, it’s going to be West,” Hill said. “They could go from an ‘F’ to a ‘B’ school, and it goes back to that leadership that’s at the school.

“Mrs. (Alice) Morrison has been keen on that data and knowing what works, what doesn’t and making the appropriate changes.”

The district’s third elementary school, McLaurin, maintained its “C” rating, but showed decreases in math and reading scores.

“They are quite a bit away from being a ‘B’ so there needs to be a push there because I think McLaurin has the ability to do better things,” Hill said. “I haven’t been shy about being disappointed about them being where they are, because they’ve essentially gone backwards this year.”

Morgantown Middle School and Natchez High School — the two schools that could be potentially taken over by the state in September — showed decreases in various subjects and maintained an “F” rating.

“The outlook for the middle and high school is not good,” Hill said. “We just need to dissect this data to find out what’s not working and correct those things while we have time before the tests in May.”

The sum of all the school’s scores would give the district a “D” rating, which would be an increase from its “F” rating.

School board president Tim Blalock offered a summary of the state of schools in the district.

“Our elementary schools seem to be doing way better and are on the way up and out of failing by any measure,” Blalock said. “While our high school and middle school are in dire need, which we have a plan to fix.”

The plan to fix the two schools comes in the form of a restructuring proposal the school board approved last month that will establish three smaller learning communities for students: middle school academies, an early college model and a career academy.

The changes are structured around the idea of smaller classes and more personal teacher instruction. They will be enacted for the 2014-15 school year.

Hill said benchmark assessment results from Robert Lewis Magnet School serve as a good indicator of what can be accomplished with smaller learning environments and motivated administrators and students.

“We wanted to use Robert Lewis as a model to be able to change what’s happening at the middle school,” Hill said. “Essentially what we’ll do at Morgantown is create three smaller magnet schools, which will translate into what we’ve done at the magnet school three items over at Morgantown.”

Students will take the annual state tests in early May and preliminary test results, which are only given to district officials, will be returned in June. Official results are released in September by the Mississippi Department of Education.