Students soar in English, see other struggles

Published 5:00 am Friday, August 21, 2009

The Lincoln County School District’s elementary and middleschool students bested statewide proficiency averages in all butone area in last year’s Mississippi Curriculum Test, but its highschool students scored below the state mean in three out of foursubjects in the Subject Area Testing Program exams, which arerequired for graduation.

Overall, an average of 75.5 percent of the county’s high schoolstudents tallied passing grades in the SATP’s four subjects -Algebra I, U.S. History, Biology I and English II multiple choice -compared to the state average of 79.8 percent. The English IIportion of the exam is the only subject in which county studentsoutscored their counterparts statewide, turning in a passingpercentage of 68.9 to the state’s 65.

Otherwise, county students fell short of the state average by9.2 percent in Algebra I, scoring 59.2 percent; by 3.4 percent inBiology I, scoring 85 percent; and by only two-tenths of a percentin U.S. History, scoring 97.2 percent.

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District officials expressed delight where students soared andpromised harder work and more resources devoted to testpreparations where they fell short. The additional focus will applyespecially in mathematics, where more than 40 percent of the 223students tested – around 90 students – failed and will have toretake the SATP.

District Director of Curriculum Richelle Ratcliff said thecounty is planning an increase in available math tutors for highschool students who will have to retake failed portions of theSATP, and will also make more tutors available to junior highstudents in order to prepare them for the more advanced version ofthe Algebra I exam, now in its second year of implementation.

“We are working on strengthening our program throughout thegrades,” she said. “You build a strong foundation and then you getthe result you desire.”

It was also the second year of implementation for a morerigorous English II examination, though the U.S. History andBiology I portions of the SATP were still structured on the old,less-advanced level, Ratcliff said. That will change next year,however.

“We’re already working on those,” she said. “We’re bridging thegaps between the old and the new framework.”

The SATP is issued to high school students depending on wherethey are in their curriculum. Aside from the 223 who took theAlgebra I portion of the test, 211 were tested in U.S. History, 227were tested in Biology I and 257 were tested in English II.

Every student in the district is required to take the SATP -including special needs students, who are not required to pass it.Special needs students’ scores are averaged into the districtscores with all other students.

The district’s younger students had no trouble passing theLanguage Arts and Mathematics questions on the MCT2, which is inits second year of being issued to all students in grades threethrough eight. The district beat the state average in proficiencyin 11 of 12 categories.

An average of 32.31 percent of students in grades three thougheight tallied basic scores on the Language Arts portion of thetest, better than 47 percent scored proficient and 9.76 percentwere listed as advanced.

On the mathematics portion of the test, 24.33 percent scoredbasic, 50.33 percent scored proficient and 10 percent wereadvanced.

The most impressive marks were turned in by fourth-graderstaking the Language Arts portion of the MCT2, 40.4 percent of whichscored in the proficient area and 21.8 percent were graded asadvanced. The same group also had the lowest number of studentsmarked minimal with 8 percent.

Eighth-graders taking the Mathematics portion of the MCT2 didn’tfare as well, bringing up the rear of the mathematics portion with24.2 percent marked minimal and only 4.7 percent advanced. Theeighth grade math portion of the test was the only area in whichthe district fell below the state average in proficiency, with 40.7percent proficient compared to the state’s 45.1 percent.

Overall, the district’s seventh- and eighth-graders had thehighest percentage scoring minimal in both Language Arts andMathematics, while the third- and fourth-graders led the advancedcategory in both subjects.

The percentages will undoubtedly change for the next round oftests in spring 2010. Ratcliff said teachers would study theresults of the MCT2 and SATP tests and adjust their focus whereneeded.

“Teachers use these scores to see patterns and methods, anddecide where to spend the most time in the classroom,” shesaid.

Superintendent Terry Brister simply reiterated the motto bywhich he leads the district.

“We’re making progress, but we’re nowhere near where we want tobe,” he said of the MCT2 and SATP scores. “Our administration, ourstudent body and our faculty are working hard, and I’ve got to givecredit where credit is due.”