City schools remain on Academic Watch

Published 8:00 pm Friday, September 14, 2012

State public school ratings released today show the Brookhaven School District receiving mediocre grades for a second year in a row and the district’s previously standout school dropping significantly.

     The Brookhaven district received a grade of D from the Mississippi Department of Education for the second year in a row. A D grade under the new A through F ranking system rolled out this year is the equivalent of Academic Watch under the old Star through Failing system.

     Last year’s rankings put Brookhaven High School at High Performing, a B under the new labels, but this year the MDE rated BHS as a D, or Academic Watch.

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     Except for BHS, all schools in the Brookhaven district received the same grade they did last year: Alexander Jr. High, C, or Successful; Lipsey, D, or Academic Watch; and Brookhaven Elementary School at C, or Successful.

     Mamie Martin Elementary does not receive a rating as none of the grades taught there take standardized tests.

     Brookhaven Superintendent Dr. Lisa Karmacharya expressed dissatisfaction with a near repeat of last year’s poor ratings.

     “Are we happy with the results? Absolutely not,” Karmacharya said. “We can’t be satisfied with status quo.”

     MDE annually ranks schools based on test scores and growth rates in those tests scores, among other factors.

     A major component of the ranking process is the Quality Distribution Index (QDI), which measures how students perform on state tests.

     Schools receive no points for minimal tests scores, one point for students scoring at basic, two for every student testing at proficient and three for advanced students.

     The district-wide QDI number moved slightly from 155 to 156. Karmacharya said the district’s QDI number needs to be around 170 to 175 to get it where it needs to be.

     Schools are also expected to see certain increases in the number of students scoring above minimal every year. Karmacharya highlighted the school’s failure to meet its growth expectations as a major factor in its ratings.

     A school’s growth rate measures how many students moved from scoring at minimal to basic, from basic to proficient and so on.

     The district has not met its growth for three out of the last four years, and based on its QDI scores, BES would have been High Performing if it had met its growth, Karmacharya said.

     “Right now we’re at a crossroads,” said Karmacharya. “We have to accept where we are and accept the challenge ahead of us.”

     Karmacharya outlined a number of steps the district has taken to address the problems seen it its state rankings.

     Last fall, the district purchased “Academy of Reading” and “Academy of Math” computer programs designed to help students struggling in those areas at the elementary levels. Second-grade teacher assistants have been moved to lower grades to provide full-time assistance there.

     Karmacharya’s also asking the principals to do more formal observations of teachers in the classroom.

     “It boils down to the teacher,” Karmacharya said. “The teacher is the one that makes the difference.”

     That’s a lesson Alexander Principal Rod Henderson seems to be putting into place, Karmacharya said. In discussing that school’s relative success in the district, she pointed to Henderson’s teaching staff.

     “He’s done a good job of paying attention to the people he hires,” Karmacharya said.

     Karmacharya also highlighted some successes in the district she’s proud of.

     “We have pockets of excellence,” Karmacharya said.

     The district increased the percentage of advanced and proficient students in math at every grade level except the high school.

     At BHS, though, math was the school’s weak point and a major cause of the school’s reduced ratings. BHS’ fall comes after two years of High Performing ratings.

     At BHS, Karmacharya said the district will be taking a hard look at ninth-graders this year to determine where intervention is needed.

     “If they need a double dose of mathematics, they’re getting a double dose,” Karmacharya said.

     The district’s five-year graduation rate did improve slightly, moving to 77.4 percent from 74.6 percent.

     This is the second year in a row the district has been rated as a D or at Academic Watch. Last year’s rating showed the district slipped to Academic Watch from its previous rating of Successful.