VWSD schools ‘moving in the right direction’

Published 7:36 pm Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Mississippi Department of Education officially released the results for English and Language Arts and Math tests for the 2016-17 school year Thursday. The test scores are one component of the school and district accountability scores that will be released in October.

The ELA scores include results for the tests in third through eighth grades and English II, which is taken in 10th grade. The math scores include results for tests given in third through eighth grades and Algebra I, which is taken in ninth grade.

The results are broken into five levels with students needing to reach at least Level Three to be considered to have passed the test. Level Four is considered proficient and Level Five is considered to be advanced.

“When you total your ones and twos across the district, you have fewer ones and twos than we have passing, advanced and proficient,” Vicksburg Warren School district superintendent Chad Shealy said. “When you talk about moving in the right direction, clearly it is demonstrated through the data.”

When measured for growth the five categories are further broken down into 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b and 3a and 3b. Students received credit for growth if they moved from 1a to 1b and additional points if they jumped to 2a, etc.

The data showing growth of the students has not been released by MDE, but Shealy said the raw testing data shows that students grew from where they were last year.

“When you talk about increasing, there were only a couple areas in the elementary schools (that didn’t show growth.),” Shealy said. “Fourth grade ELA was the only one that had any variance. Fourth grade ELA was an issue throughout our state. We have definitely increased the number of students who are in performance level four and five across the board in ELA and math from third grade to tenth grade.”

The area where VWSD continued to struggle was at the high school level, particularly at Vicksburg High. Overall, 77.7 percent of the 396 students who took the Algebra I test at VHS scored in level one or two, which is considered failing. At Warren Central, 55.8 percent of the 656 students were Level one or two. The story was much the same in ELA, where 66.5 percent of the 505 VHS students who took the English II test and 51.5 percent of the 514 WCHS students who took the test were level one or two.

Shealy said the one caveat when looking at the scores is that, unlike other states, Mississippi only counts the first time the students take the test.

“They don’t record the second time you take it or the third time you take it or when you actually pass,” Shealy said. “I know in life it is a lot different. Everybody passes their driver’s license test the first time they take it right? Of course not. Do they pass the bar exam the first time? How about the CPA exam? Nope. Other states count every opportunity to improve. That particular data is raw data for everybody that took it one time.”

VHS is under new leadership this school year and principal Angela Johnson, who was previously the superintendent in Hollandale, is tasked with making sure those scores improve.

“I believe administration matters,” Shealy said. “That is one of the reasons we’ve hired Angela (Johnson). She is a Milken National Education Award winner. She has done this work in Hollandale. She did this work prior to Hollandale. She gets results. That is what we are expecting.”

One of the ways they are working to improve the scores is by identifying students who are likely to struggle based on their previous test scores and making sure they receive help early on. 

“Any time you have numbers that show kids aren’t making the marks, the first thing you have to look at is where they started,” Shealy said. “When you look at the scores that is the first thing you have to establish. Which group of children are we looking at?”

Shealy said they are also double blocking students, where they will have two periods of math or English depending on their needs.

“If you have a cohort of kids who are lower, you have a lot of work to do to get them to pass,” Shealy said. “They have a course they are going to offer first semester and then the algebra will follow. They will get double blocked, double math.”

The third component is making sure that the curriculum is aligned with what students need to know for the test and ensuring that the teachers are implementing that curriculum correctly.

“I have seen it be wonderful teachers with great intent that teach the wrong thing sometimes,” Shealy said. “You can be teaching things that aren’t assessed and come out with wonderful experiences for kids, but they don’t align with the proficiencies where they need to be.”

The full ELA and math results for VWSD and districts throughout the state can be found at here.