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Local school districts on academic watch

The Brookhaven and Lincoln County school districts are on”academic watch,” a lower-tier ranking assigned to them by theMississippi Department of Education in the latest batch of schoolaccountability standards.

Neither district was able to meet its academic growthrequirement in the new Mississippi Statewide Accountability Systemresults, based on test data from the 2008-09 school year, despiterelatively high scores in a few important indicators.

“Academic watch” is the fourth of six accountability labels inthe ranking system. which begins with “star” and ends in “failing.”From top to bottom, the rankings are star, high performing,successful, academic watch, at risk of failing and failing.

Only two districts in the state achieved star status, whileeight are failing. The majority of the state’s 152 school districtsare on academic watch or at risk of failing.

“In some courses and some grades, we need to put more things inplace to challenge our children,” said Brookhaven School DistrictSuperintendent Lea Barrett. “You always have to improve, or there’sno growth.”

Both Barrett and Lincoln County School District SuperintendentTerry Brister said their districts achieved some growth, just notenough to satisfy the accountability standards.

“We scored well, but we didn’t grow enough,” Brister said.”We’ve got to put on these new gloves and learn how to hit thesenew standards.”

By the numbers, Lincoln County scored 157 on the QualityDistribution Index, a formula that measures the amount of studentsconsidered advanced, proficient, basic and so on. Brookhaven’s QDIwas 150.

Pass Christian, one of the two star districts, recorded thestate’s highest QDI at 203. The Drew School District, one of thestate’s eight failing districts, recorded a state low QDI of 85.The state average is 149.

Brookhaven scored 251.8 HSCI – the High School Completer Index,which tracks the amount of students in the model’s five-yearsnapshot who stayed the course and completed high school – one ofthe top 10 scores in the state. Lincoln County’s HSCI was at190.6.

Brookhaven’s graduation rate was 83.9 percent, while LincolnCounty’s was 81.8 percent.

In school-by-school numbers, each district experienced highs andlows.

Brookhaven Elementary School was the most successful cityschool, earning a rating of high performing with a QDI of 174.Brookhaven High School was listed as successful, with a QDI of 164.Both schools met growth requirements.

Alexander Junior High School was the district’s lowest performerand is at risk of failing, with a district-low QDI of 129. LipseySchool is on academic watch, with a QDI of 141. Neither school metgrowth requirements.

“I was very pleased with BES and BHS – BHS only missed beinghigh performing by two points,” Barrett said. “I was verydisappointed with the score at AJHS. We’re teaching the samechildren, and somehow in the seventh and eighth grades, we’re notdoing a good job of focusing on the curriculum.”

Barrett said it was apparent that some AJHS classes “got away”from the Mississippi curriculum. She said AJHS and Lipsey wouldrefocus on the curriculum’s question format and the district wouldinvest in more professional development for teachers.

The four county schools split accountability results, with WestLincoln Attendance Center leading the way and Bogue ChittoAttendance Center bringing up the rear. No county schools are atrisk of failing.

West Lincoln is ranked as high performing, scoring adistrict-high QDI of 202 and meeting its growth requirement. ItsHSCI and graduation rates were district lows, however, standing at158.8 and 76.5 percent, respectively.

Enterprise Attendance Center is ranked successful, with a QDI of155 and an HSCI of 196.3. The school’s graduation rate is 82.7percent, and growth requirements were met.

Both Loyd Star and Bogue Chitto attendance centers are onacademic watch.

Loyd Star scored a QDI of 143 and an HSCI of 190.9, with agraduation rate of 81.8 percent. Bogue Chitto’s QDI is 133, adistrict low, while its HSCI is 213.0, a district high. Itsgraduation rate is 85.5 percent – another district high.

Neither school met growth requirements.

“I was very pleased with West Lincoln’s and Enterprise’sprogress,” Brister said. “The other schools did well, too, and weknow where we need to go. Enterprise had drastic improvement.”

The district accountability scores are the first in the state’snew system, which was developed to bring the state more in linewith national accountability standards. The system will be phasedin over four years, and the standard will change next year.

“I think it’s confusing for the community,” Barrett said of thechanging model. “They get a number in their minds to grade success,and next year that number changes.”

Barrett also disagrees with the labeling process in the newaccountability standard.

Chickasaw County School District, for example, is listed as asuccessful district, despite a graduation rate of 51.6 percent.Likewise, George County School District is listed as successfulwith a graduation rate of 53.8 percent and a low HSCI of 95.0. Bothdistricts met growth requirements, the most important factor in thenew accountability standard.

Barrett said the labels do not give any account of other factorsshe feels are more important to determining a district’s success,such as ACT scores and college placement.

“If graduation rates and HSCI are so important, I wish they weregiven more weight in determining the label,” she said.