Making the grade ~ Pass Christian scored the highest in the state
November 23, 2009By L Ausmer of Pass Christian High School
GULFPORT - Many schools in South Mississippi can compete with others across the country, according to classifications released today as part of the state\'s new accountability plan.
A majority of schools that received ratings, 84 of 114, were listed as successful, high performing or star schools. One district on the Coast, Pass Christian, scored the highest in the state.
"We are very excited," said Sue Matheson, superintendent of the Pass Christian School District. "It takes a lot of hard work from our central office staff, administrators, teachers and parents."
Two years ago the state adopted a new accountability plan, which made the curriculum and the tests more difficult and will compare Mississippi students with those across the country.
Students began taking those tests in the spring of 2008. Those in third through eighth grades take tests in language arts and math. Fifth- and eighth-graders take science tests. High school students are given tests in algebra I, U.S. history, biology I and English, which they must pass to graduate.
For elementary and middle schools, the results of the language arts and math tests or each grade, were used to give each school a QDI - qualitative distribution index. The index ranges from 0-300. Because fifth- and eighth-graders took science tests for the first time in spring 2009, those results won\'t be factored into the accountability model until next fall.
Harrison Central, West Harrison and Biloxi High are not rated because they schools housed students in 10th, 11th and 12th grades. They were exempt this year from ratings so they can be measured on a full year\'s growth from 9th grade students after they are tested this year.
The QDI and the growth for each school and district are used to determine a classification. Those are: star school, high performing, successful, academic watch, low performing, at-risk of failing and failing.
For high schools, the results of the subject area tests are used to determine QDI. That number, as well as the high school completion index, the graduation rate and the growth model are used to determine a classification for each.
Officials at the Department of Education will work with schools classified as "failing" to develop a corrective action plan.
Matheson said the district has developed after-school programs and extended-year programs to help students do their best on these tests. That, as well as support from the school board, parents and the community, helped the students.
"So many of our children come to school not ready to learn," she said. "That support from the parents and the community have been instrumental to our academic success. The tests are rigorous, but that\'s good for our students."
Some districts didn\'t fare as well. Moss Point had the only failing school in South Mississippi - Kreole Elementary. The district overall received an "at risk of failing" classification.
"We are proud of the fact that we had several schools to show growth, but we also understand there is work to be done," Assistant Superintendent Janice Thomas said in a statement. "With this being the first year for the new accountability model, we now have a base to build upon. We are working toward success to ensure that we continue to graduate empowered world-class citizens."
At South Side Elementary in Picayune, for example, the QDI was 128, which is in the "at risk of failing" category, but because the school met growth expectations, it was labeled "academic watch." All six schools in the district received that classification.
Assistant Superintendent Brent Harrell said they were disappointed but were taking steps to improve.
"We are right at the state average, but we want to do better than that," he said, adding the district is giving its own assessments at each school so teachers can measure student growth throughout the year.
Harrell and other superintendents said they felt some of the classifications had a negative connotation.
"It may indicate to the public that something is terribly wrong, and that\'s not the case," Harrell said. "We grew, just not as much as the state wanted us to."
Wayne Rodolfich, superintendent in Pascagoula, agreed. Five schools in that district are labeled as academic watch, but another five also are considered high performing.
"Our plans are to continue doing what we have been," he said. "Teachers have isolated what\'s going on, and we have a huge push for literacy programs for the younger kids. Even the schools that are under academic watch have good students. We don\'t want any special consideration, but we do want fair consideration."