Schools need improvement

Schools in Copiah County are getting better, but the bad news is they are not getting better quickly enough to earn a higher rating under the state’s new accountability system.

In the past the Mississippi school accountability system compared school districts within the state to each other, while the new system compares them to schools across the nation. Under the new system, to earn the highest ranking a ‘Star’ school has to be among the best in the nation, not just the best in the state. Only two districts in Mississippi earned the Star label according to accountability results released this week by the Mississippi Department of Education.

The new accountability system has three components: achievement, growth, and graduation. Schools which do not have graduates (such as middle schools) are evaluated based on achievement and growth only. It is possible for a school district to show improvement without earning a higher ranking under this system, if the district or school fails to meet the growth component.   

The QDI, or Quality Distribution Index, is a score given to a school or a district based on how students perform on state tests, explained James Reeves, state-appointed conservator of the Hazlehurst district. The highest QDI a school can earn is 300.

The achievement model is based on the number of students scoring Basic, Proficient, and Advanced on state tests. The goal is for all students to be Proficient or Advanced. Schools earn points for these categories, with more points awarded for Proficient and Advanced scores, to determine the QDI.

Also used in determining a school’s ranking are graduation rates and the High School Completion Index (HSCI) which assigns exit points based on the type of diploma students receive when they leave school.

LOCAL RESULTS

Hazlehurst City School District earned a ‘Failing’ rating, based on a district-wide QDI of 96. Eight school districts in Mississippi and 53 individual schools earned the Failing tag this year.

The Copiah County School District is ‘At Risk of Failing,’ with a district QDI of 124 and district-wide graduation rate of 78.4%. Crystal Springs Middle School is labeled ‘Failing’ with a 98 QDI while Wesson is ‘Successful’ with a 154 QDI and 82.8% graduation rate. Wesson met the growth targets while Crystal Springs Middle did not.

On the Academic Watch list are 37 school districts and 189 individual schools in the state, with 45 districts and 158 schools At Risk of Failing, while 38 districts and 217 schools are labeled Successful.

Hazlehurst Making Progress

Hazlehurst is still labeled a failing district, but it is improving.

Hazlehurst Middle School earned a 94 QDI, or ‘Failing’ rating, and did not meet the growth targets set by the state, while Hazlehurst High School rated on ‘Academic Watch’ with a QDI of 109. Hazlehurst High did meet the growth targets. The high school graduation rate in Hazlehurst is 82.4%. Reeves points out that the QDI is not a straight average – it is a per child grade.

As a district, Hazlehurst did not meet the growth target, although Hazlehurst High School did meet it. “Each child is given a growth target for this year’s test scores,” explained Reeves. This target is assigned by the state based on the child’s past test performance.

Despite the low QDI this year in Hazlehurst, the schools have made considerable improvement. Last year the high school’s QDI was 77, while the lower grades (which were scored as two schools last year) scored in the 80s, Reeves explained.

“We are not that far from being where everybody else is – which isn’t good. It tells you we have problems statewide.” Statewide, the QDI is 149. “But we are headed in the right direction,” said Reeves. “We have to sustain this growth next year and show that what we’re doing is working.” He believes Hazlehurst can earn a Successful label in the next year or two.

But moving up in rank will be even harder than in the past because the target QDI will increase every year under the new accountability system. That means the bar will be set higher and higher each year, and schools will have to show even more improvement before a new ranking can be achieved. It is possible for a school – or a student – to show great improvement and still not earn the next rank.

This is the first year the new accreditation system has been in full effect. It is based on different curriculum standards, different assessments, and a different accountability system. The levels under the new system should not be compared to previous accreditation levels because the requirements are so different it is like comparing apples and oranges.

In January the Hazlehurst district will conduct district testing to measure growth, which should be scored much more quickly than the state tests and will soon give the district a better idea of the progress it is making.

Despite the disappointing accountability labels, Reeves is encouraged by the progress Hazlehurst schools are making. The state took over operation of the school district in the spring of 2008.

“I think the schools are a lot better,” Reeves said. He added that the central office, administrators, teachers, and students are all doing a great job. “The thing is, we started off so far behind. We’re asking our teachers to do an awful lot in a short period of time. We’re asking a lot from our teachers and our students. It’s been tough on both ends.”

Crystal Springs High School did not receive a rating under the new accountability system this year. Two years of test data is needed to assign a rating, but due to the changes in testing requirements the students at CSHS had not taken the MCT2 at the junior high level the previous year, so their scores could not be assessed under the new accountability requirements this year. CSHS will receive a rating next year, according to Copiah County School District officials.

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