Leaders lament accountability marks

Published 6:56 pm Friday, September 10, 2010

Local school administrators were largely disappointed with thelatest batch of school accountability rankings released Friday,which placed most districts on “academic watch” after failing tomeet growth requirements despite gains in some areas.

The 2010 accountability results gave the academic watch label tothe Franklin, Lawrence and Lincoln county districts, amiddle-of-the-road ranking given to all three systems for thesecond consecutive year. The Brookhaven School District was theonly local system to earn the label “successful,” while the CopiahCounty School District was judged “at risk of failing” – thoughWesson Attendance Center led that district by earning the academicwatch label.

The ranking system’s highest award is star, followed by highperforming, successful, academic watch, low performing, at risk offailing and failing.

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The low labels caused consternation for area superintendents,who pointed to high test scores and other achievements they believeshould count for more than the accountability label.

“We’ve had progression and improvement each and every year, andthen for us to come up short is not a just reflection of the hardwork of our faculty and students,” said Lincoln County SchoolDistrict Superintendent Terry Brister. “I’ll put my test scoresagainst anyone in our area.”

Three of the four Lincoln County schools were placed on academicwatch, a regression from the 2009 labels when only two schoolsreceived the ranking. West Lincoln Attendance Center remained ahigh-performing school for the second consecutive year, butEnterprise Attendance Center fell from successful to join BogueChitto and Loyd Star attendance centers at the watch level.

The unwanted academic watch ranking was given to the districtand the majority of its schools because of failure to meet academicgrowth requirements, a critical factor that tracks the progressionof individual grades.

Even though the district didn’t grow according to statestandards, there was overall improvement, Brister pointed out. Thethree schools that received the low ranking all made improvementsin the quality distribution index (QDI), another importantaccountability factor that shows how schools spread qualityinstruction to subgroups of students.

Bogue Chitto – the district’s lowest-performing school – madethe biggest QDI improvement, increasing eight points from lastyear’s 133 to this year’s 141. Loyd Star jumped six QDI points to a149, while Enterprise added four to achieve a score of 160. WestLincoln’s QDI didn’t change, holding its impressive 202 from lastyear.

The district overall improved its QDI five points to 162.

The same improvement was seen in the district’s totals in thehigh school completion index (HSCI), a ranking that tracks a gradeof students through high school to determine how many graduated.All four county schools achieved HSCI scores above 200, with BogueChitto leading the way at 210.8.

The district-wide graduation rate was 76.7 percent.

Still, West Lincoln was the only school to meet growthrequirements. But Brister isn’t panicking.

“We’re going to do just what we’ve been doing,” he said. “Ourgame plan is to start with the young ones and work our way up,getting them prepared for what’s coming in high school. If we do amore thorough job of preparing the younger grades, it will takecare of itself.”

There were few complaints in the Brookhaven School District,which was rated high performing and saw all four of its schoolsachieve satisfactory rankings and meet growth requirements.

Brookhaven High School and Brookhaven Elementary School wereranked as high performing schools, achieving QDI scores of 174 and170, respectively. The high school’s HSCI score was 184.8.

Lipsey School was rated successful, with a QDI of 159, andAlexander Junior High School leapt from at risk of failing lastyear to successful in 2010, recording a QDI of 143.

The district’s graduation rate was 75.4 percent.

“I think we have turned the corner in our focus on academics,”Superintendent Lea Barrett said recently after her districtrevealed its ranking results along with state curriculum andsubject area testing scores. “We have good systems in place toidentify children who have a problem and good intervention servicesin place to help those children get back on their feet.”

Among other school districts, perhaps the most aggravatedsuperintendent is Lawrence County’s Tony Davis, who saw three ofhis five district schools rank successful, one achieve the highperforming level and only one placed on academic watch – 80 percentof his schools received satisfactory rankings.

The district’s graduation rate led the area at 80.5 percent. Andyet, the district’s overall label was academic watch.

“Our number for growth for the entire district was -0.001. Wewere that close,” Davis said. “The growth thing for us is a hurdle.We’ll keep looking for the answers and keep working.”

Lawrence County’s Topeka Tilton Attendance Center was judged ashigh performing, with a QDI of 184 and growth requirements met. NewHebron Attendance Center also met growth. Lawrence County HighSchool, Monticello Elementary School and Rod Paige Middle Schooldid not meet growth, however, with Rod Paige being the only schoolon academic watch.

Results were more mixed in Franklin County, where both the upperelementary and middle schools are at risk of failing but FranklinCounty High School is successful. The high school met growthrequirements and scored a QDI of 173, but had a graduation rate ofonly 67.8 percent.

“It was sort of a shock to see what happened,” saidSuperintendent Dr. Grady Fleming. “We weren’t anticipating droppingdown like that. We’re still analyzing all the data, and we’vealready got a lot of plans in place to improve that this year.”

The Copiah County School District turned in the worstperformance locally, with Crystal Springs High School failing andthe middle school at risk of failing. The high school in Wesson wasplaced on academic watch, despite an HSCI score of 231.5 – one ofthe higher completion indices in the state – and a graduation rateof 80.6 percent.

No Copiah County schools met growth requirements.