By STEVEN NALLEY
The Mississippi Department of Education released data this week showing percentages of students who earned proficient or advanced scores on the Mississippi Curriculum Test, Second Edition (MCT2), revealing growth among the Oktibbeha County School District’s elementary students but less consistent, weaker results among its high school students.
James Covington, OCSD superintendent, said the district has met its scores with mixed emotions because while the district did well in some areas, it still has room to improve in others. He said he believes one of the keys to building more consistent MCT2 results in future years is to retain schools’ leaders and other faculty members.
“When we’re able to recruit and retain our personnel — our teaching faculty — it makes a difference,” Covington said. “If we’re not able to retain them, then they take that knowledge and move on to somewhere else, and we have to start over. The veteran teachers ... they know what the test is asking, whereas (when) you have novice teachers fresh from universities, they’re not equipped with the knowledge of the veteran (teachers).”
The MCT2 is given at the end of each academic year to students in grades 3-8 in language arts and mathematics. It designates students’ scores, from lowest to highest, as “minimal,” “basic,” “proficient” and “advanced.”
Percentages for the OCSD were variable even within the OCSD’s elementary schools, going as low as 22 percent in language arts for sixth graders at East Oktibbeha County Elementary School and as high as 95 percent in mathematics for third graders at West Oktibbeha County Elementary School.
Overall, however, elementary school trends showed growth in a comparison of 2012 percentages with 2011 percentages for the same subjects and the same grades. For instance, the 2012 EOCES sixth graders’ 22 percent in language arts was 1 percentage point higher than EOCES sixth graders’ language arts percentage in 2011.
Out of 16 percentages at the two schools in the two subjects across four grades, only two showed decline: EOCES third graders’ math percentage fell 5 percentage points to 51 percent, and WOCES fifth graders’ math percentage fell 3 percentage points to 64 percent. The largest gain shown was an increase of 48 percentage points for WOCES sixth grade language arts, swelling to 89 percent.
Results for seventh and eighth graders at West Oktibbeha County High School and East Oktibbeha County High School were not as consistent or strong as the elementary schools. The highest percentage in those grades was 40 percent in language arts for WOCHS seventh graders, and the lowest percentage was 15 percent in language arts for WOCHS eighth graders.
The biggest gain in seventh or eighth grade was 22 percentage points in language arts for WOCHS seventh graders. WOCHS also saw the biggest loss in any elementary or high school grade, with WOCHS eighth graders losing 47 percentage points, dropping from 71 percent in 2011 to 24 percent in 2012.
Covington said there was more than one way to measure changes in proficient and advanced percentages from year to year. Instead of measuring change from one class in a given grade to the next class in the same grade, he said it might be worthwhile to measure the same class’s progress as they move from grade to grade. For instance, he said, the 2012 eighth graders who were 24 percent proficient in math in 2012 were 27 percent proficient in math as seventh graders in 2011.
“You see the 2011 numbers for (eighth) grade ... they’re ninth graders (by 2012),” Covington said. “You can (see) more of a trend when you look at grades 3-8. Their course of study is almost prescribed for them (as opposed to grades 9-12).”
However, this measure does not favor WOCHS either; it shows losses across the board for all subjects and grades, including a loss of 24 percentage points in math for students who were seventh graders at WOCHS in 2012 and sixth graders at WOCES in 2011. Both measures yield good results for EOCHS: gains of 10 or more percentage points in three out of four instances, with a 4-percentage-point drop in mathematics for seventh graders.
Covington said one specific faculty retention issue at the high schools is retention of principals. Including the new school year, he said, EOCHS has had three principals over the last three years, and WOCHS has had two principals in the same time period. Both schools have new principals for the new school year, he said, because their previous principals resigned.
“We did a good job in elementary this year,” Covington said. “In elementary, we’ve had some consistency there in the office of principal. In high school, we have not had the consistency of building leadership. If we can ever establish that consistency, (the high schools) will mirror what the elementary schools are doing.”
To establish this consistency, Covington said he and the OCSD board have begun to discuss increasing the pay supplement the district offers to faculty. State laws require school districts to supplement the income teachers receive through the state pay scale, Covington said, and OCSD teachers currently only receive a $250 supplement per year.
“When you compare that to other school districts, it is not anywhere close,” Covington said. “We’ve already been in discussion. We just need to make it happen. We need to make sure, financially, we can live with it. We’re already a small district and our tax base is very limited, but I think our school board is committed to making sure we can do all we can to recruit and train talent.”