GRADING OUR SCHOOLS: Superintendent sees encouraging signs in state data

Published 7:42 am Monday, October 2, 2023

Natchez-Adams County Schools Superintendent Dr. Zandra McDonald-Green isn’t satisfied with the C grade awarded to the district this year, but she does see signs of encouragement.

“Remember in 2016 this was an F school district” based on today’s standards, she said this week. “From that point forward, we have continued to make improvements.”

In fact, the district earned a B grade from the Mississippi Department of Education for the 2021-2022 school year.

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“We were excited about the level we received last year,” said McDonald-Green. “It confirmed that we can achieve that level and more … and we will. We’re looking for that A rating.”

Each year, the Mississippi Department of Education provides an annual report card for every school district and school, ranking them from A to F based on a matrix of data that measures student proficiency in reading, math, history and Science as well as college and career readiness, graduation rate and other factors. Statewide this year, 87 percent of schools and 91 percent of districts were rated a C or higher, an increase from 81 percent and 87 percent in 2021-2022.

The Natchez-Adams School District earned a D grade in the 2020-2021 year and moved to a B in the 2021-2022 assessment. That jump was driven in part by significant rates of improvement over the prior year, which was affected by hybrid education models and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This year, we did not see the same rate of growth as we did in previous years,” she said, explaining that greatest areas of decrease were seen in the growth in math proficiency. In 2021-2022, that rate of growth – or improvement over the prior year – was 73.5% for all students; in 2022-2023, it was 57%.

Math proficiency for the district increased from 24.8% to 27.2% in the 2022-2023 assessment.

“Again, it’s the rate of growth that affected our scores,” McDonald-Green said, explaining that the proficiency rate and growth rate are factors for both English and math assessments.

Other areas of proficiency measured include:

  • English proficiency: 33.3% this year, with growth of 60%; 27.7% last year, with growth rate of 62.6%
  • History proficiency: 63% this year, an increase from 56.3% last year
  • Science proficiency: 43.6% this year, an increase of 39.8% last year
  • Graduation rate, 88.4% this year, a decrease from 89.6% last year
  • College and Career Readiness, 16.2% this year, a decrease from 18% last year.

McDonald-Green said that shifts in individual school performances are encouraging.

Susie B. West Elementary moved from a C rating to a B. “That’s a sign of growth in our science proficiency,” she said, attributing the improvement to “a personnel change. Now we see what can happen when you have highly qualified teachers in front of our students.”

The other elementary schools – McLaurin and Morgantown – also achieved a B rating. “McLaurin actually dropped from an A to a B, again because of that rate of growth in math proficiency,” McDonald-Green said.

Natchez High School also moved from a C to a B rating, a move which McDonald-Green said is a critical improvement. “That’s extremely difficult,” she said. “We saw marked improvement in reading proficiency and reading growth, and we can again credit that to highly qualified teachers and changes in our curriculum.”

Those changes include the types of materials used for the curriculum, efforts to align the curriculum more closely with the state content standards and using a data-forward approach to curriculum.

At the middle school level, this year’s assessment is the first for the newly formed Natchez Middle School, which earned D rating. The school replaces Robert Lewis Middle and Morgantown Middle, both of which earned Cs in the prior year.

“I’m a middle school educator and it’s tough,” McDonald-Green said. “First, it’s tough because it’s a transition year in students’ development. They are moving out of their childhood and into their teenage years, and you have to address that.”

Secondly, the students are moving from the “learning to read” curriculum in elementary school to a “reading to learn” model in middle school. Combined with increases in difficulty in math curriculum – “fractions, fractions, fractions … and you’re starting to introduce algebraic concepts” – students face many challenges, she said.

To counter those changes, McDonald-Green said the administrators are re-evaluating the curriculum and making adjustments to improve student learning and proficiency.

McDonald-Green said the administration and faculty commitment to improving the district’s grade has been critical in the growth achieved. “They work really hard,” she said. “They worked through a pandemic and post-pandemic, and that was really challenging … they have risen to the challenge and I congratulate all of them.”