Amite schools have uphill battle

Published 11:13 pm Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gloster Elementary School is closed, but its ghost haunts the Amite County School District in the form of state 2009-10 test scores that contributed to the school district’s state accountability status of “at risk of failing.”

Amite County carries the ranking for the second straight year, despite having two schools, Amite County High School and Liberty Elementary School (now Amite County Elementary), move up to the academic watch level.

The school district’s Quality of Distribution Index, which measures student improvement on tests, is 109, up five points from 2008-09, but 45 points below the state QDI of 154.

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Superintendent of Education Debbie Hopf said Gloster’s test scores, which are below its 2008-09 scores in all areas but eighth-grade reading and fourth-grade math, are one reason.

Gloster’s performance put its 2009-2010 status as failing. The school was also in danger of failing in2008-09.

Hopf said other factors combined with Gloster’s scores to give the district its at risk of failing status:

— A drop in the state Subject Area Test Program scores on all subjects but Algebra I at Amite County High School.

While it remains on academic watch, ACHS showed little growth from 2008-09, increasing its QDI from 119 in 2008-09 to 129 in 2009-10.

“The students made progress in Algebra I, but not in the other subjects,” Hopf said.

— The significant drop in the school district’s 2009-10 graduation rate from 2008-2009.

According to Mississippi Department of Education statistics, the school district’s graduation rate is 48.4 percent, which is about 25 percent below the statewide rate of 73.5 percent, and about 18 percent below the 2008-09 rate of 66 percent.

Liberty Elementary is the one bright spot for the school district.

Like Gloster Elementary, Liberty’s accountability status for 2008-09 was at risk of failing with a QDI of 100.

Liberty’s QDI for 2009-10 is 120, up 20 points from the previous year.

“Liberty Elementary had growth in almost every area,” Hopf said.

In language arts, Liberty students’ language arts scores improved in every grade but the seventh. All grades improved in math.

Hopf said the decision to close Gloster Elementary had some impact on that school’s students’ poor scores.

However, she believes consolidating the schools and Liberty’s test score improvements will be the springboard to help the students from Gloster improve.

“Research and studies of other consolidated schools show that consolidation helps students improve,” she said.

So will the school district’s overall plan to improve education in all grades.

“Our goal is to be able to get all the schools to academic watch and then move into successful,” Hopf said. “We are working to develop programs to help students in the areas that will make the biggest impact.

“We are not that far,” she said. “At the high school, we had higher scores on all the tests. And while we had less students passing, we had more students scoring proficient and advanced.”

Hopf said work on improving test scores began in the summer, with a districtwide literacy project involving teachers in all subject areas to improve reading comprehension.

“Improving the children’s reading comprehension will help them in all subjects.”

Gloster’s problems provided another asset for the school system.

Because Gloster was failing, Hopf said, the state Department of Education’s Office of School Improvement offered a training program for teachers and administrators.

But since Gloster has merged with Liberty, she said, the school district had the option of declining the help.

“We told them we wanted the training,” she said. “I am not going to turn down free technical training.”

And Save the Children, a reading and tutoring program, is funding a teacher to serve as a tutor and literacy coach in the school district.

Hopf said the school district is conducting teacher training programs with classroom monitoring.

“We have purchased computer software to assess students and find out where they are having problems,” Hopf said. “The goal is to determine the grade level at which the child is working, start at that point and work to bring them up to grade level. Students are tested every nine weeks, so their progress can be monitored.”

Hopf said programs include putting students with similar problems into groups to work together, and giving students extra class time either during or after school. Computer lab time also is scheduled so students can get additional help.

“We have contracts with retired teachers to work with students in algebra, language and reading in grades 7 to 12. That process has helped with math scores.

“We also have a new teacher in English at the high school,” Hopf said. “She was the eighth-grade English teacher at Liberty Elementary last year, and was responsible for bringing up the scores in eighth-grade language arts.

On the graduation rate subject, Hopf said the 2009-10 class had a large number of overage students in high school.

“These students began dropping out little by little and getting their GEDs at other schools.”

She said school officials are working to get older students into ACHS’ in-school GED program so their graduations will count in favor of school district.

“We are also working with students who fail a course to get them into the credit recovery programs, where they can make up the work and graduate on time,” Hopf said.