Schools see accountability gains

Both the Oktibbeha County School District and Starkville School District have seen gains under the new accountability ratings released by the Mississippi Department of Education, but the superintendents of both districts agree there is still room for improvement.
The state accountability results were released this week. The accountability ratings based on the state test scores from the Mississippi Curriculum Test 2 (MCT2) and the Subject Area Testing Program for the previous school year.

Breaking it down

Growth, according to MDE, measures each student’s individual improvement from one year to the next.
Achievement is another factor MDE takes into account when determining the accountability ranking of each district and school. Achievement is a variable standard that is contingent on how all students in the state faired against the test. Achievement is determined by the QDI, which assigns a points value to students who score basic, proficient or advanced.
Students earn no points for their school if they score minimal on the test as that indicates they are not learning material at the rigor and relevance level the MCT2 is testing. Students scoring basic on the test earn the school one point, proficient earns two points and advanced earns three points.
The QDI is then broken into a scale from zero to 300 with the following labels: “Failing,” “low performing,” “at risk of failing,” “academic watch,” “successful,” “high performing” to “Star School.”
For instance, a QDI between 100 and 132 can either be labeled as “at risk of failing” or “academic watch” depending on if growth was met.
If growth was met, the school would be labeled as “academic watch,” but if growth was not met, the school would be labeled as “at risk of failing.”
“Growth and achievement have to be made simultaneously,” SSD Supt. Judy Couey explained of the accountability label assigned to each school.

Oktibbeha County School District

“Both west schools made strides. Both were failing last year,” OCSD Supt. James Covington said. “We’re heading in the right direction with schools on the west side, but there is always room for improvement... We certainly have a lot of work ahead of us.”
The 2008-2009 accountability rankings showed both West Oktibbeha Elementary and West Oktibbeha High School labeled as “failing” schools for the district. Both East Oktibbea Elementary and East Oktibbeha High were labeled as “at risk of failing” that same school year.
The data just released by MDE now has West Elementary improving by three levels to “academic watch,” and West High moved up two level to “at risk of failing. East Elementary’s labeled stayed the same, and East High dropped two levels to “failing.” The district as a whole stayed the same from last year’s ranking as “at risk of failing.”
“At West Elementary, we gained 40 QDI (Quality Distribution Index) points, which is phenomenal, and I attribute that to the staff and principal,” Covington said.
However, West Elementary was the only school in the district to meet the growth component set forth by the state.
Covington explained that West High School gained 19 QDI points and East Elementary increased their QDI by 10 points.
To help ensure next year’s scores continue to see growth, Covington already has outside consultants in both East Oktibbeha schools who work with teachers and administrators on teaching to the rigor and relevance at the level the state MCT2 tests. Consultants are scheduled to visit both west schools sometime next week.
“We got teacher coaches last year, but they didn’t start until January. We’re starting early this year to work on teaching strategies for the state test,” Covington said. “We’ve already begun remediation using district math coaches to work with students that did not pass the test... Where we see weakness, (teachers) will modify instruction.”
The district has also implemented new data teams at each school. The data teams have created data rooms where files on each student are kept.
Those files hold all test scores from each child so they are available to teachers in an organized, concise format. Teachers will use that information to modify classroom instruction to help reach all students’ learning levels.
“Teachers need to be making those data-driven decisions about classroom instruction each day,” Covington said. “We’re certainly not where we want to be, but we’ve had positive movement, and that is a step in the right direction. As time progresses, we will move more and more where they need to be. I’m committed to making sure the schools have the best teachers available and the best administration available to achieve our goals.”

Starkville School District

The SSD improved two school’s labels of the four schools that were tested. Last year, Ward-Stewart Elementary was labeled “at risk of failing.”
This year the school is labeled as “successful,” which is a two-level move. Armstrong Middle School was also “at risk of failing” last year, but has now moved up one ranking level to “academic watch.” Both Henderson Intermediate and Starkville High were “successful” last year and remain that way this year. Growth expectations were met in all schools but Armstrong Middle.
“The administrative team at Ward-Stewart set high expectations at the beginning of the 2009–2010 school year, and their efforts were reflected in the test results,” Assistant Supt. Beth Sewell said. “The teachers at Ward-Stewart focused on teaching the state curriculum and utilizing pacing guides, available data and common assessments to help their students be successful,” she added.
The district as a whole was again labeled as “academic watch” just as they were last year, but missed labeled as “successful” by .03 of a point.
“It was disappointing to be that close and come up short, but we are starting the 2010 school year ahead of the 2009 mark, and with more tools than ever to help students achieve,” Sewell said. “We do not have any schools ‘at risk of failing,’ and when our teachers entered the classroom on the first day of school, they already had access to their students’ test scores on EZ Test Tracker to compare their progress from one year to the next.”
Though the SSD made gains during the 2009–2010 school year, the focus for this year will again center around measured indicators identified in the state accountability model, Couey assured.
“We are a district that has been in the middle of the road for academic performance in assigned accountability ratings since the 1997–1998 school year when the state model was first implements,” Couey explained. “We must focus on meeting the academic needs and expectations of our students if we are going to move forward.”