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Picayune school district praised for efforts to raise test scores

Consultant Rucks Robinson praised the Picayune school board for taking action it’s taking without being required to take it to improve academics within the district and praised the teachers and administrators of the district for their attitudes and efforts in the drive to improve test scores within the district.

He was one of three outside advisors from from which school board for the Picayune Municipal Separate School District heard at noon Thursday. The district hired Robinson, a retired coast school superintendent in districts where schools have successfully achieved and maintained a level 5 accreditation, the highest awarded by state, to help it move its schools from a mostly level 3, or successful, accreditation to consistently higher accreditation levels.

The other two advisors were Tom Clark, a former Picayune superintendent who is now executive director of the Gulf Coast Education Initiative Consortium, and Mike Waldrop, executive director of the Mississippi School Board Association. The Picayune district is a dues paying member of both of those organizations. Clark reported on the status of education-related bills before the Mississippi Legislature, and Waldrop was there to discuss the board’s role in planning and on making policies to guide district efforts.

During his report, Robinson said the school district has an extensive after-school tutorial program that targets students needing help, an effort made by few school districts not required to do so to escape a less than successful rating by either the federal or state governments.

“You’re not on ‘improvement’ but you’re offering tutorial services … and you don’t have to,” Robinson said.

Waldrop commented at this point that “most districts are reactive, not proactive. … You’re being proactive.”

Robinson noted that he began his work in the district by doing an analysis of data in the district and making recommendations based on that analysis. H said the school board, administration and teachers have followed through on his suggestions, including targeting minimal students, basic students and those in the lower quartile of proficiency for tutoring and have provided transportation, as recommended, for students receiving after-school tutoring.

The district also has purchased software to allow it to track the success of individual students and teachers and has purchased the Fast ForWord program to help improve students’ reading and language skills.

“Language processing was the main problem,” in the school district, Robinson said, in addressing the need for the Fast ForWord program. He called the district’s purchase and testing of the program at Nicholson Elementary a “very adventuresome” move. The success of the program there in improving students’ reading skills by more than one year, on average, has the district pursuing the purchase of the program for all of its schools.

“If you are not a fluent reader, you don’t have a chance on your subject area tests or the MCT 2,” Robinson said.

The district’s efforts are all aimed at preparing for the subject area tests that high school students must pass to graduate and for the MCT 2 tests that students now have to take to determine a district’s accreditation level, though the state Department of Education hasn’t determined what scores will determine success on the MCT 2 tests. He implied that determination will be made after the tests have been scored.

Robinson said the tests are “among the most difficult tasks you (can) expect any child to encounter in their elementary career.”

He said the district is taking the right approach in preparing for the tests, but “don’t expect change overnight.” The district won’t see the results of its efforts “for a couple of years,” because remediation has to be made “one child at a time.”

Among numerous other recommendations that Robinson made that he said the district is following through on are:

— Pacing guides developed by teachers to ensure all required curriculum is covered in the school year.

— Participation in the state’s Student Progress Monitoring System and use of the system to develop initial district tests and using those tests to determine weak areas in need of remediation.

— Professional development in Depth of Knowledge and EZ Test Tracker.

— Efforts at planning the revision of course offerings at the secondary level to include courses low-performing students need to take to prepare themselves to take the Subject Area Test classes of Algebra I, Biology I, English II and U.S. History.

The consultant recommended the district further concentrate on academic improvement and on dropout prevention, which he said are state Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds’ and state Department of Education’s two primary goals.

Robinson said future plans include:

—Administration of MCT 2 practice tests.

— Curriculum alignment, continuing development of pacing guides and district test preparation.

— Analysis of future test data and goal planning.

— A new teacher induction program.

— Analysis of data presentation to the school board on a least an annual basis.

— Policy development related to academics.

— Curriculum presentation to the school board at least monthly

— Financial review with the intent to allocate additional resources with an emphasis on reducing the student-teacher ratio.

In his presentation, Clark first praised the school board for its efforts based on Robinson’s recommendations, then told the members that it was still too early to know where much of the legislation related to education would end up. He presented the board with a written synopsis of each of the education-related bills.

Clark said he had asked the legislature not to penalize the coastal school districts, including the Picayune district, for their reduced student populations. The districts still are being greatly affected by Hurricane Katrina and need MAEP money based at least to some extent on their pre-Katrina student populations if they are to recover from the storm.

Waldrop offered to help the school board develop the policies to support academic efforts in the district recommended by Robinson.

Board chairman Harvey Miller also was sworn in following his reappointment to the board by the Picayune City Council.