WLES Principle Robert Sanders

Assistant Superintendent Robin Ballard

BY BRIAN JONES

brian.jones@packet-media.com

COLUMBUS – At its Dec. 9 meeting, the Lowndes County School Board got an in-depth look at its most recent accountability results from Assistant Superintendent Robin Ballard and the principals.

Ballard said that the district held on to its B rating and some schools actually made gains, in spite of being warned by the state that scores would likely be lower thanks to the new assessment.

The accountability results for 2015-16 were:

  •  Caledonia Elementary School: B, was an A last year.
  •  Caledonia Middle School: B, unchanged from last year.
  •  Caledonia High School: B, unchanged from last year.
  •  New Hope Elementary School: C, was a B.
  •  New Hope Middle School: B, unchanged from last year.
  •  New Hope High School: B, unchanged from last year.
  •  West Lowndes Elementary School: C, was a B.
  •  West Lowndes High School: F, was a C.

The scores were derived from the Mississippi Accountability Program, which is the third test the state has used in the past three years. It previously used the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career and, before that, the Second Generation Mississippi Curriculum Test. The MAP is considered to be harder than either the MCT2 or the PARCC. To compensate the state froze schools’ accountability ratings for two years, and they were allowed to use either the old score or the new one, whichever was higher. The 2015-16 year no waiver was allowed.

“Caledonia Middle and New Hope Middle and Caledonia High and New Hope High either stayed the same or came out higher,” Ballard said. “That is awesome because we were told to expect to drop one or two letter grades. From my perspective it had a lot to do with the block scheduling that we have put into place. That was something that teachers and students have to get used to, but it’s really been a thing of beauty and a real benefit to our students. We also had reading teachers that were put into place in our high schools during this time. The interventionists and reading instructors really take a big burden off of the principals.”

The LCSD is 40th in the state currently, she said.

“We always want to have our eye on where we’re going next,” she said. “Even though we had some drops in two elementary schools and one of our high schools, we are still 63 points away from an A. We want to be an A, and that is very attainable. We know what areas we need to look at.”

Elementary schools were graded on a 700-point system and high schools on a thousand-point system, she said.

“In elementary you have 300 points for reading, 300 for math and 100 for science,” she said. “At the high school it gets a little more complicated. We still have 300 points for reading and math, but then there is 50 points for science and 50 points for US history. Graduation rate is 200 points. The state department of education wants us to be over 80 percent, and we are 82.7.”

The number of students participating vs student performance is built in on a sliding scale, she said.

“Right now it’s 60 percent participating versus 40 percent performance,” she said. “The dual enrollment classes will really help with getting the performance rate on up there. As I showed you last spring, we have a lot of people participating in AP classes but not a lot actually earning the AP credit. We think having the (dual enrollment) is going to help us there.

“Then we also get 50 for college and career readiness, and that’s managed through the ACT,” she said.

Ballard and the principals addressed the board about each school’s performance.

Ballard began with West Lowndes High School.

“I don’t feel like Ms. Jones should have to carry this burden because she has taken over WLHS,” Ballard said. “She wasn’t here last year when the school fell from their previous rating. We feel like there were some contributing factors that led to the decline at that school. A lot of it was teacher turnover. Attendance had not been accurately recorded during the year for the most part. The assessment that we use to pinpoint remediation needs was not conducted last year. We know that those are quick fixes that we can put in place just by monitoring things very rigidly and strategically.”

“We are the feeder school for West Lowndes High School, and we’ve got to step our game up some more to send them kids that are prepared,” said West Lowndes Elementary Principal Robert Sanders. “Our goal is to be a B. We are 41 points away from that. We can get here, and we will get there one way or another. As Dr. Ballard said earlier, we had some teacher absences that impacted our students. For example we had a fifth-grade teacher who was out for surgery for about six weeks. That was an impact on our students, because no matter who you put in there they’re not going to do it the way that teacher would have.”

Sanders also said his school is working to eliminate “fluff” and concentrate on focusing on things that need to be taught for the assessment.

Caledonia Elementary Roger Hill said the decline in his rating could be traced back at least in part to problems with the testing, as well as problems with the current building.

“I have some reasons why we didn’t do as well,” he said. “We had some issues with the test. Over the past three years we’ve taken three different tests. 400 of the 700 points on the elementary model come from growth, and to grow you have to go back and see how you did this year versus last year. We don’t have the same test, and it’s hard to measure growth when you don’t have the same test to grow from. The test is computerized, and we had some students that had blank screens. We had some students who got logged out while they were working. We had students that could not get logged on to the test. It was very frustrating.

“We have had serious overcrowding,” he said. “We do most of our work with our students in the hallways. We have tables and chairs set up in the halls. We are moving into a new learning environment that is going to be really, really nice and everybody will have their own place to work. They won’t have to be in the halls, they won’t have that noise and those interruptions, and I think that’s really going to make a difference in the future.”

Caledonia High School Principal Andy Stevens said he had reassigned some teachers to critical positions.

“I have an athletic background, and if you want to win a football or a basketball game you put your best athletes in the most important positions,” he said. “What we’ve done is put our best teachers at the most critical positions. Some of them kind of questioned why they were moved, but I think they understood it later. It’s a team effort, and we’ve got a bunch of great teachers with a lot of stability in our building.”

Caledonia Middle School Principal Karen Pittman said her school was “only 19 points away from an A.”

“We are out of room also,” she said. “So being able to move our sixth graders into the K-1 building and getting our own cafeteria…our scheduling will be better once we don’t have to share.”

Pittman also said that she had very low teacher turnover.

New Hope Elementary School Principal Tammy Aldridge said her school was hurt by the changing model.

“When you’re aiming at a target and you don’t know where the target is it’s kind of hard to get there,” she said. “With that being said, the biggest factor that hurt us is that we are right in the middle. When I started at New Hope six years ago as an assistant, (NHES) was in bad shape. That very next year we jumped on it hard, and

l See SCORES, Page 9A

we back in good standing and then we started fine tuning. Then everything started changing. We were looking like we were within reach of getting that A school, and then they started changing the model.

“For my teachers and the kids, they are all trying hard and it feels very frustrating (to get a C),” she said. “I told my teachers after they were really defeated that I was proud of them. When I looked at the numbers we are 14 points from the B. The year before were were 23 points away. We grew that much in a year’s time with a whole new test.”

“I’m proud of what we were able to do,” said New Hope Middle School Principal Sam Allison. “I’m proud of our B. If you look real close, yes, we just barely made a B. But we showed a lot of growth. It’s refreshing to walk down a hallway and see kids engaged with technology. I know that was a big financial commitment, but it pays dividends.”

“I’m proud of what we did,” said New Hope High School Principal Matt Smith. “I was told to expect our score to go down by 30-40 points, and ours went up 30 points. Block scheduling was huge for us. I think every principal would say they have the best staff, and I, too, would say that. We, too, did better in some areas than I thought we would and worse in some areas than I thought we would. You gave me two reading teachers and it paid huge dividends.”

In other business:

l President Brian Clark asked the district to look at the feasibility of changing the pay scale and supplements.

l The board approved re-instating early release on Wednesday. Students will be released at 2 p.m. instead of 3 p.m., effective in January.