Boosting student achievement

Starkville School District officials on Monday set a goal of making the city school system a high-performing district by 2012, and that goal is one of many they are developing this fall.
The SSD Board of Trustees met in a special meeting Monday afternoon to outline major district goals and refine others.
Every few years, the school board members and SSD administrators discuss issues facing the district, and they use the outcome of their discussions to formulate new goals to address them. The last time the board outlined goals for the district was in 2008.
The board began thinking of viable district goals in September during a Mississippi School Board Association retreat. During the Oct. 2 regular board meeting, the board listed six topics to be formulated into goals during Monday’s meeting.
School board members on Monday adopted the goal to be a high performing district by 2012, which means that 65 percent of students need to score proficient or higher on the Mississippi Curriculum Test (MCT) and subject area tests.
The board also adopted the goal of increasing the high school graduation rate from 60.4 percent to 75 percent by 2012.
Other goals discussed Monday included exceeding the national average in ACT scores, increasing the opportunity for flexible learning, making accelerated schedules more available, increasing pre-kindergarten readiness, and increasing the number of students graduating with and honors diploma or as a Mississippi Scholar.
The board discussed each goal to determine if it should be made into a district goal or listed in as a strategy to achieve an over-arching goal.
Regarding ACT scores, board member Pickett Wilson acknowledged the proposed goal as being an important indicator of student achievement, but explained that the ACT does not necessarily pertain to the district’s achievement in regards to state testing.
Supt. Judy Couey agreed with Wilson saying the state test is based on subject criteria, and that the ACT is more of a reference test.
Though the ACT does help graduating seniors earn scholarships, the proposed goal does only target a small portion of district students.
Looking at accelerated schedules, Couey explained the goal was outlined because when looking at students who drop out of school, there is a mixture of students who have fallen behind and students who are bored due to a lack of challenging course work.
“I think having maximum options for all students would help our graduation rate,” Couey explained regarding accelerated schedules.
Couey added that accelerated schedules can help the student who is behind in school be able to “see the end of the road,” she said.
For the student who is not being challenged and is in danger of dropping out, it helps them finish with high school early and move on to higher education, Couey said.
“We want to keep all options open for our students,” Couey added.
Duel credit, duel enrollment and education options are also options that can reach both types of students who are in danger of dropping out. Duel credit and duel enrollment allow students to earn college credits while being in high school.
This is different from advanced placement because advanced placement classes do not always translate into college credit, whereas duel enrollment does, Couey said.
After discussing the flexible learning options, the board decided they were all strategies to attain the over-arching goal of increasing the graduation rate and consolidated them into that goal.
When discussing the need for pre-kindergarten readiness, the board was in agreement that it is an important goal, but they also recognized that it is a goal that requires a financial component as state dollars are not allocated for pre-kindergarten education.
“I just don’t know how in the world we’d fund it,” Wilson said.
“It’s ambitious and worthy, but I’m just worried about the funding.”
Couey did mention in the slight increase in funds from Title 1 brought to the district by Assistant Supt. Walter Gonsoulin, and added, “I think we can certainly have pilot programs.”
After discussing each goal, board member Keith Coble said that he felt the proposed goals lacked focus on all areas of education included athletics, the arts and the vocational school.
The board agreed and asked Couey to talk with administrators about their goals for the district as they are integral in forming district goals.
As the meeting concluded, the board listed the definite goals agreed upon as becoming a high performing district by 2012 and increasing the graduation rate from 60.4 percent to 75 percent by 2012.
Couey was charged with talking to administrators to learn their goals and report those to the board during the Nov. 2 regularly scheduled meeting so that the district goals could be finalized at that time.