Houston scores show improvement


EDITOR’S NOTE: Houston school test scores, as released by the Mississippi Department of Education last week, can be found in the Wednesday, August 28, 2013 edition of the Chickasaw Journal.


HOUSTON – Superintendent Dr. Steve Coker believes nothing spurs success like success.

The Mississippi Department of Education released high school test scores last week from state accountability exams given during the 2012-13 school year and the Houston School District has seen some success but realizes there is definitely a need to do better.

Coker and Debbie Harmon, Director of Curriculum and Assessment, said while the the exact data is still embargoed they are pleased with Houston’s test scores and the direction the district is headed.

“I think attitudes have changed and contributed to this,” said Coker. “The pressure is on us, on teachers, on parents and on students. We all want to see better test scores.

“If parents, teachers or students don’t see a need to study and learn and take these tests seriously, you’re pretty much done,” said Coker. “We’ve put a lot of incentives in front of students to do well on these tests. The $100 dollar bills and Ipods we recently gave away at the Upper Elementary School are just one example.”

Houston saw dramatic improvement in its dropout rate, strong math scores at the elementary school level and high school students score very well in Algebra 1.

The data and its comparison to the state average can be found on Page 7A of today’s Chickasaw Journal.

The district continues to struggle with language arts scores specifically reading at the elementary and middle school levels. Houston did see improvements in fourth and fifth grade test scores, but they still below the state average. Houston High School was at the state average in Biology, U.S. History and English. Last year’s seventh grade test scores in both Language and Math are still a cause for concern.

“At this point we can’t address specific test scores about a grade or a school,” said Harmon. “We are aware of them and we are already making plans to address areas where we have concerns.”

Harmon and Coker did admit said they have seen the in-depth data on test scores and are crunching the numbers with principals and teachers.

Harmon said reading comprehension continues to be a problem for the district.

“We have concerns from K to 12th grade and realize there is work to be done,” said Harmon. “One of the things parents will see us do is ‘reading with a pencil.’ They will see students bring home photocopies of textbooks and we will urge students to mark up those papers. They will highlight key points and learn or comprehend it better.”

For years students have been chided by teachers for writing in their textbooks since the books are owned by the district and reused year after year. College students, who buy their books, have marked them up for years.

“Parents will also hear more about ‘Math In Focus,’” said Harmon. “It’s aimed at K through 5th grade and is a totally different way of teaching math.”

Coker and Harmon also pointed to the Middle School shift to 2-hour block scheduling for English and Reading.

Coker said public schools welcome all students.

“But some students come here with a desire to learn and seek excellence, there are some who develop that talent and there are some who never get the sense of what we are trying to do for them,” said Coker. “We demand our teachers model that desire everyday and we ask parents to model it, too. Sadly, in many homes, it is our students who model that desire to learn and strive for excellence.”

Harmon said Houston School District parents are given more opportunities and avenues to be involved in their child’s education than ever before.

“Each of our schools holds parent night or has a PTO that lets parents ask questions, get in the building and get to know teachers and principals,” said Harmon. “Parents need to take advantage of that and not wait until a student has a problem and is failing. A little work and communication on the front end can solve lots of problems before they get started.”

Coker said teachers are also learning they have to try harder, too

“Teachers understand accountability, it’s not new anymore and it’s not going to go away,” said Coker. “When we can look at test scores and hard data and determine which students and which teachers are not performing, that makes some people uncomfortable.

“That also makes change necessary,” he added. “Most can and will endeavor to change, but some won’t. And sometimes the pressure of all that change makes them decide to do other things elsewhere.”

But Coker once again focused on the mission of the Houston School District to meet the needs of all students so that they can become responsible productive citizens.

He said the district and the state have provided opportunities for all students to go to college and students and the parents of students who don’t take advantage of public education are doing themselves a dis-service

“Studies show the less education you have the harder it is for you to make a good living,” said Coker. “Yes, there are exceptions but they are not the rule.

“I also would like to point out the difference between having a high school diploma and not having one are huge,” he added. “The military won’t take you if you don’t have a high school education and you won’t even get a job interview these days unless you can check the box that says you are a high school graduate because there are already high school graduates seeking that job.”

Coker said a lot of teachers, principals, parents and students have worked hard to improve test scores at Houston School District.

“Am I pleased with these scores? Yes I am,” said Coker. “We do have room for improvement but we have seen a major increase in several areas and we are pretty proud of that.”

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