NASD tackling reading issue at middle school level

Published 12:12 am Saturday, February 21, 2015

NATCHEZ Middle school students in Natchez are reading multiple grade levels below where they should be, and Natchez-Adams School District officials hope targeting that problem area will show improvements in other subjects.

Tawanna Thornton, principal of Morgantown Middle School Arts Academy (MMSAA), presented the NASD Board of Trustees Thursday with a comprehensive plan of improvement for the school.

The plan is a requirement from the Mississippi Department of Education after MMSAA was designated as a failing school, receiving an F accountability rating.

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MDE requires schools that have had consecutive failing ratings put in place a plan to identify areas of improvement to be addressed.

Because the art academy had the most number of students of the three academies following a restructuring of Morgantown last year, the academy inherited the former middle school’s F rating and must remain under state-monitored scrutiny until test results improve.

The plan includes goals to increase student performance in language arts, math and science, while also decreasing discipline infractions.

A part of the plan Thornton presented Thursday included results of benchmark assessments students took in math, English and science. All Morgantown students took the assessments, but the data Thornton presented represented only the 250 Arts Academy students in sixth, seventh and eighth grade.

Scores in the English and language arts assessments, Thornton said, showed students are far from where they should be on grade level.

According to the benchmark results, sixth- and seventh-grade students are reading on a fourth-grade level, while eighth-grade students are reading on a fifth grade level.

Thornton told board members she thinks the reading issues need to be a high priority for the school.

“Until we fix the reading problem, we’re going to have all the other problems,” Thornton said. “Students who struggle to read are going to struggle in math, social studies and science.”

Thornton told board members one portion of the plan to improve low reading scores was for the school to purchase a new program called Academy of Reading, which is an intensive, online intervention program for struggling readers.

The school plans on spending $55,000 on the software for reading and math, which Thornton said will be funded by a grant for which she has applied.

Board member Thelma Newsome expressed concern with the timeline of implementation for the programs and with MDE’s higher expectations for students that don’t always include funding sources.

“My concern is we want to do all these things, but we have not allocated the money and by the time you get the grant, order the software, put it in place it’s April and time for the test,” said Newsome, referring to annual statewide tests taken by students in the spring. “A lot of times it’s MDE’s fault because they put these demands on this, but then their time frame is so crazy.”

English skills are currently being targeted in the school through special Tuesday teaching, which is where all teachers — excluding math — focus on teaching students reading and writing skills. On the following Wednesday, students write based on a prompt from Tuesday’s lessons during their English classes.

Superintendent Frederick Hill said after the meeting he knows tackling reading issues across the district will lead to improved student achievement in all subject areas.

“If a student is struggling with literacy, they’re not going to be able to understand other concepts so we need to focus on that,” Hill said. “We know what we have to improve.”

In other news from the meeting:

A number of district teachers and administrators were recognized for their hard work and dedication.

NASD teachers of the year that were recognized for each individual school included:

• Frazier Elementary School — Karen Hinson

• McLaurin Elementary School — Mary Kramer

• Morgantown Leadership Academy — Catherine Lewis

• West Elementary School — Melita Bassett

• Robert Lewis Magnet School — Glendora Alexander-Muhammad

• Morgantown College Prep Academy — Sandra Trimble

• Morgantown Arts Academy — Anne Bailey

• Freshman Academy — Sherry Martin

• Natchez Early College Academy — Tukiiya Stephens

• Natchez High School — Sherrie Jacobs

• Fallin Career and Tech Center — Audrey Curry

Stephens was also recognized as the district teacher of the year.

Zandra McDonald, principal of Robert Lewis Magnet School, was recognized as administrator of the year.