By Terri Ferguson Smith / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
It's still an uphill climb academically for the Meridian Public School District, which fell a grade point in test scores this year, receiving a D from the state.
The results were better for the county school district, which earned a B.
Test scores were released by the Mississippi Department of Education on Friday, but school administrators have known the results for several weeks and have already made preparations for dealing with the results.
MPSD dropped one point in Quality Distribution Index (QDI) score on the 2012-13 state tests, and based on the state accountability model, MPSD’s letter grade went from C to D.
“Obviously, we are not happy with the district moving from C to D, but we are pleased with the overall progress we have made in the last two years,” said Dr. Alvin Taylor, MPSD superintendent.
Taylor said using the current grading system, in 2010-11, MPSD would have had seven F schools, two D schools, and one B school while the overall District would have been labeled F with a QDI score of 126. As of the 2012-13 school year, MPSD has made improvements to those scores and is no longer labeled a failing district, he said.
MPSD expanded the Curriculum and Instruction Department at the beginning of the school year by hiring five instructional specialists who every day work directly with teachers by coaching, mentoring, and modeling effective teaching strategies, Taylor said.
"We have looked at the data and we've seen that our teachers need more training and support in various areas so we, based on our data, looked at the teachers who were very strong in raising test scores. We have made them trainers of teachers," Taylor said. "If the teachers improve how they teach in the classroom, the students will do better."
In addition, Taylor said, MPSD is working to increase the rigor and pace in each classroom in order to ensure that each objective is taught thoroughly. Also, in an effort to improve literacy among all students, MPSD has expanded the READ 180 program to all secondary schools, and academic interventionists are working with students that need interventions in reading and math.
"When our students are struggling, our academic interventionists are there to provide remedial help and extra support," Taylor said.
He said specific improvements from the 2012-13 school year include: Carver Middle School improved QDI score by 13 points which results in a 22 point gain over the last two years; Magnolia Middle School moved from F to D and increased QDI score by 13 points; Meridian High School showed growth and increased their letter grade from D to C; Northwest Middle School increased QDI score by 7 points; and Poplar Springs Elementary School showed growth.
As a whole, the state of Mississippi is improving at a rate of 6.5 percent, but the Meridian Public School District is improving at a rate of 9.6 percent, according to Taylor.
“In order to catch up with the state, we are going to have to outpace them, and the good news is, we are doing just that,” said Taylor.
Taylor acknowledged that much remains to be done to improve the school district.
“While we are not pleased with the overall results from this past year, we have come a long way and will continue to strive to show improvement for the 2013-14 school year,” said Taylor. “I ask for your patience as we are diligently working hard each and every day to ensure that the students of Meridian receive the best education possible. We do have many challenges ahead of us, but we can overcome those with the help of parents and community members. We still need mentors and tutors, and we encourage parents and community members to visit our schools on a regular basis. It is going to take 100 percent effort from all stakeholders working together to get our district to where it needs to be.”
Lauderdale County School District
Earning a B rating is cause for celebration, according to Randy Hodges, superintendent of Lauderdale County School District. Hodges said while there is always room for improvement, now is the time to celebrate the county district earning a B and being listed in the top 33 percent of Mississippi School Districts.
West Lauderdale High School received the only A grade in the county district; there were six Bs, five Cs and no Ds or Fs.
In addition, the district overall earned a "met" rating with regard to growth, Hodges said. The "met" or "not met" designations refer to whether a school or district has achieved the level of growth expected of it during an academic year, Hodges explained. The expectation is that students have grown a year academically in a year's time.
"We're proud of that," Hodges said. "As a district we met growth. The work between the administrators, the classroom teachers, the central office where we break it down to strengths and weaknesses of individual students, I think that's very important and I think we do an outstanding job of that."
Hodges said once principals and teachers understand what their students' strengths and weaknesses are, they use that as a starting point to develop a plan for their students.
"We have a plan in place to improve that. I think we do an excellent job of that; just a good understanding of what each individual student needs to do to move forward," Hodges said.
Hodges attributes success in the district to the teachers.
"What we are doing and are doing well, is teachers in the classroom. When you perform at a high level, it's because of good teachers," Hodges said. "Our district is a B. Why are we a B? Because we have quality teachers who are doing an outstanding job. That's where the credit should be directed."
Hodges emphasized that it is key to have support from all sides. He said success comes from a combination of administrators as instructional leaders, teachers who are doing an outstanding job in the classroom, students who are willing to work, and supportive parents.
Schools that did not meet growth expectations this year are Clarkdale Middle School, Northeast Lauderdale High School, Southeast Lauderdale High School and Southeast Lauderdale Elementary.
Hodges met with administrators and principals early in the school year to evaluate the test scores and to plan for improving the schools.
"The principals presented to me what they thought they needed to do, what they would do to improve. We have a structured plan in place," Hodges said.
Considering the loss of about $6 million from the state over the past five years, Hodges said he is very proud of the results the district has earned.
"We've been through a recession for the last five years. That means larger classroom sizes, less resources, and we still are a B school," Hodges said. "It's been difficult times, but we've managed through it and ended up with these schools. I'm very proud of that."
Specific areas of improvement, Hodges said, are:
• Southeast Middle School improved 10 QDI points, moving from a C to a B.
• West Lauderdale Middle School improved 12 QDI points, and is now just five points from an A status.
• West Lauderdale High School continues as an A school and is ranked 12th in the state according to their five year graduation rate,
• Two more schools: Clarkdale Elementary and West Lauderdale Elementary are less than 10 points away from an A status.
• All high schools saw an increase in their five year graduation rate, and science teachers in fifth and eighth grades at multiple schools had QDIs more than 200.
How they rated
An A means Star School, a B means High Performing, a C means Successful, a D means Academic Watch; and an F means Low Performing.
City Schools Ratings
Crestwood Elementary went from a D to an F
Carver Middle remained an F
Magnolia Middle went from an F to a D
Meridian High - went from a D to a C
Northwest Middle remained a D
Oakland Heights Elementary fell from C to D
Parkview Elementary fell from a C to an F
Poplar Springs Elementary went from an A to a B
T.J. Harris Elementary went from a C to a D
West Hills Elementary went from a C to a D
County School Ratings
Clarkdale Elementary went from an A to a B
Clarkdale High remained a B
Clarkdale Middle went from a B to a C
NE Lauderdale Elementary remained a C
NE Lauderdale High remained a C
NE Lauderdale Middle - B
SE Lauderdale Elementary went from B to a C
SE Lauderdale High remained a C
SE Lauderdale Middle remained a C
West Lauderdale Middle - B
West Lauderdale Elementary - B
West Lauderdale High remained an A