Schools ‘At Risk of Failing’|Bowmar rated highest among 12 in district

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 23, 2009

When compared to schools nationwide, Vicksburg public schools are ranking “At Risk of Failing,” the sixth of seven descriptive terms used for rankings released today.

The label assigned to the Vicksburg Warren School District as a whole in the new Mississippi Department of Education school accountability system follows years of being ranked Level 3 on a five-tiered scale. The new ranking is based on 2008 and 2009 state tests.

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Bright spots in the district are perennial high achiever, Bowmar Elementary, which earned a High Performing rating, the second-highest of the seven rankings, and Beechwood Elementary, which earned Successful, the third.

Three schools, Bovina, Redwood and Warren Central High School, were designated Academic Watch, fourth, while the others — South Park and Warrenton elementaries, Vicksburg and Warren Central intermediates, Vicksburg and Warren Central junior highs and Vicksburg High School — were rated At Risk of Failing. No schools in the district were in the lowest category, Failing.

Third-grade students at Sherman Avenue and Dana Road schools were included in the ratings for Warren Central and Vicksburg intermediate schools, respectively. Grove Street School offers alternative programs and was not rated.

Former state Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds pushed for the new system of measurement, conceding it to be more rigorous, but saying it would present a more relevant gauge to compare with schools in other states.

VWSD Superintendent Dr. James Price said that with the curriculum and standardized test changes of the past two years, the new ratings were no surprise. “We were told by the state department to expect the achievement levels of previous years to drop as a result of the more challenging curriculum,” he said in a prepared statement, “and this was the case.”

Bowmar was 4 points shy of reaching the top category, Star, with 196 of the 200 required. Statewide, 34 out of 799 schools, or 4.3 percent, achieved Star level, with 142, or 17.8 percent, rated High Performing.

Schools in the top two categories are among the best in the country and are performing above the national average.

“We’re very happy to be High Performing because we’ve worked so hard,” Bowmar Principal Tammy Burris said. “We were so close to being a Star school, and there were very few Star schools in the state, but that shows us it’s attainable, and that’s our goal for next year.”

Burris attributed Bowmar’s success to a triple bonanza of great parent involvement, “wonderful” teachers and a nurturing atmosphere. Parents, she said, don’t just support their children’s homework and activities at Bowmar, but volunteer at the school — teaching, reading to and mentoring students and chaperoning field trips.

“Parent involvement is essential,” Price agreed. “Any time you have parents involved in the school, the kids do better.” Students are most successful when the community, the parents and the schools work in tandem, he said.

Across the state, two school districts earned Star status: Booneville, in the northeast, and Pass Christian, on the coast. Eight were labeled Failing: Coahoma County; Drew and Indianola, both in Sunflower County; Hazlehurst in Copiah County; Kemper County; North Panola in Panola County; Okolona Separate in Chicasaw County; and West Tallahatchie in Tallachatchie County.

Mississippi began revising its school accountability system in 2007, when Bounds, now commissioner of Institutions of Higher Learning, appointed a task force to develop a plan that reflected new, more rigorous curriculum and testing as well as competition.

Incoming state Superintendent Dr. Tom Burnham, returning to the job he held for five years in the mid-1990s, said the new system next to the old “is just like Ole Miss and MSU football competing for state bragging rights compared to competing for national bragging rights.”

Other measurements factored into the ratings are test scores and, as appropriate, graduation rates.

About 30 percent of districts in the state fell into the same category as VWSD, which had a “QDI” or test score value of 123 out of 300 possible points, a high school completion index of 245.5 and graduation rate of 85.1 percent, but did not meet its growth requirement.

Growth, for which numerical results were not provided, “is based on whether students demonstrate performance equal to or better than expected based on how they performed the previous school year,” Burnham said in a statement released Nov. 12.

“Many of the schools that do not reach Successful and receive the status of Academic Watch are still reaching the state average or better,” Burnham stated. “However, these schools may not have had the academic improvement expected.”

The growth component of the rating system took the longest for the task force to develop and was not adopted by the state board of education until October. Price said Friday that he was studying the growth-related information of the ratings, trying to get an understanding of how the system works as it seeks to measure the learning of each individual child from one year to the next.

Kristopher Kaase, deputy superintendent for DOE’s state instructional programs and services, said regarding growth that a student’s past performance on language arts and math tests is used to predict his expected performance in the next round of testing.

It was not clear how the cumulative effect of its students’ growth ratings resulted in a school being judged as having “met” or “not met” growth standards.

Bovina Elementary, which reopened in the 2008-2009 school year and had only one year of data, was rated based on state tracking of its students, individually, from their performance the year before while attending their previous schools, Price said.

Looking to the future, Price said Vicksburg schools will continue their efforts. Research has shown that over time students adjust to the greater rigor and scores move upward, he said.

“Our teachers are teaching smarter and harder than they ever have in the past, and our students are learning more than they ever have before,” he said. “To be the best we can be, it is essential that we set high standards and assessments that will give us accurate data upon which to make instructional decisions.”


Contact Pamela Hitchins at