TPSD School Board 11.15.12

I will be live blogging from today’s Tupelo School Board meeting.

The meeting has just been called to order. The board will not vote at this meeting. It will only discuss the agenda. It will meet again at Milam at 5 p.m. and will vote at that time.

Executive director of curriculum Leigh Mobley will make a presentation about the district’s common assessments for its first 9-weeks.

Mobley: “Our common assessments have been and will continue to be an important part of the district’s efforts to improve student achievement.”

To create tests, district has a program from the ELS computer software that provides possible assessment questions. Teachers matches those questions with the objectives they are teaching. The tests are sent to teachers for input. The teachers are asked to review the tests to make sure it covers the correct objectives and has the proper level of difficulty. 70 to 80 percent of the questions are at a level 2 Depth of Knowledge or higher. An outside person also reviews the test to ensure the proper level of difficulty.

There are several “distractors” on the test so teachers can see where their students are on the objectives that will be taught in the next few weeks. The tests also use “spiraling,” which means the objectives taught at the beginning of the year will remain on the tests throughout the year.

Common assesments are given in “testing windows” every 4.5 weeks. The 9-weeks assessment is given on the 9-weeks testing schedule.

Assessments are given from kindergarten through the high school. In high school, they are given in subject area test subjects.

For the first time, the district is assigning grades based on common assessments. Those are used for 9-weeks test grade. That is done to give the test credibility and prevent teachers from having to test the students twice. Tests are scored based on cut scores from last spring’s state test.

Mobley: “When we get a QDI on these tests, we expect that QDI to be very close or preferably a little higher to what we had in May. That lets us know our assessment is very close to the MCT.”

They looked at the four proficiency levels: minimal, basic, proficient and advanced. They looked at student scores from last spring and determined what score range correlated to which grade.

They’ve disaggregated data by district, school and teacher. For the district, the QDI was a 169, the exact QDI the district had last May. “That makes us feel good the tests we gave were valid,” Mobley said.

12 percent of the district scored minimal, 27 percent were basic, 41 percent were proficient, 20 percent advanced. Mobley said they need to focus on the minimal and basic students.

Looking at the data, Mobley said the percentage of students scoring advanced declined in the upper grades. That is why the district wants to focus on its top students, not just the bottom-scoring ones, Mobley said.

Mobley is showing an example spreadsheet of how teachers can use this data. Teachers mark their bubble students, she said, and make specific plans on how they will help those students. She said ELS does a lot of the hard work in terms of calculating.

Mobley said the district will use a company called CASE 21 that creates common assessments. She said the district has gotten good recommendations from them and will use a trial from them for its semester exam. The district has sent the company its pacing guides to use in writing the tests.

Common assessments include language, math, science and social studies.

Superintendent Gearl Loden said Clinton, DeSoto County and New Albany are among the districts that already use CASE 21.

Board member Rob Hudson asks if writing test questions is a year-long process.

Mobley said that is putting it mildly. She said there is not a day that her department is not wokring on test questions.

Loden said the district is scoring higher than it did on last year’s common assessments and that these tests are harder and longer.

Loden and Mobley each said their children critique the test questions some times. Loden said, “they’ve spent too much time around educators.”

12:45 p.m.

Communications Director Kay Bishop is speaking about a district marketing survey.

She said the district’s e-newsletter has gotten many positive comments. “We feel like we have increased our internal communications with our stakeholders.”

She said the school e-newsletters have been fantastic. She said 5,461 people have subscribed, 72 percent of parents.

Bishop said that the billboard and yard sign campaigns have been successful. She said 2,800 Golden Wave pride signs have been distributed, as have 2,900 honor roll signs.

She said the district created an intranet site for staff in October. It includes a “Suggestion box” to send anonymous suggestions to Loden. It also includes links to some forms.

The district administered at Survey at the end of August.

More than 1,600 third- to fifth-grade students were surveyed. 93 percent reported using technology at least once a week, 80 percent said they liked school, 88.6 percent felt safe or very safe at school and 98.3 percent apply themselves in class.

More than 1,600 sixth- to 12th-grade students took surveys. 85 percent enjoyed most of their classes, 91.7 percent said they felt safe, etc.

Additional marketing strategies include tours, plaques with the district goals distributed at each school, birthday cards sent to staff, recognitions, letters from Loden to honor roll students.

Since June, Bishop said, the district has been mentioned 318 times in newspaper articles and 59 times on TV.

The district will have a luncheon for its retirees on Dec. 12 at the Hancock Center, from 11 to 1. Bishop said it is for all retirees to thank and recognize them, also to see if they want to volunteer to tutor or help the district in other ways.



TPSD Community Liaison Mary Ann Plasencia is making a presentation about the district’s report card.

Plasencia said average daily attendance has improved since 2010, as well as the percentage of minority teachers the district has recruited (11 percent to 13 percent). Graduation rate has improved. The percentage of college enrollements in state has improved to 79.1 percent. It does not include students who go out of state, she said. On ACT scores, TPSD is performing similar to national average, she said.

First and second-grade Terra Nova scores, Plasencia said there is a good growth between first grade and second grade at all schools.

Under three through eighth, Plasencia said several 3-8 schools showed large improvements on state tests. It includes growth with economically disadvantaged and ELL students.

Plasencia: “Our goal is to put together an annual report to the community and put it digitally on our website to give folks a pretty comprehensive picture of where we are, not just students but also teachers and where they are and what credentials they have

“It helps us see areas we need to focus on and subgroups we need to focus on.”

Loden said one thing the district needs to really work on is teacher retention rate. The district has had about 20 percent or higher turnover rate the last three years, Loden said.

Plasencia: “We have a lot of young teachers, as the numbers show.”

Board president Eddie Prather: “We have more teachers statewide who can retire than students in the schools of education.”…Said it is good that Tupelo has been able to attract some young teachers.

Human resources director Jim Turner said that 26 percent of Mississippi teachers are eligible to retire.


Finance director Linda Pannell is presenting about financial statements.

Turner will present the personnel report. Recommendation to hire one licensed individual and one recommendation. It is hiring a pre-K teacher for the new classroom it has added to the Early Childhood Education Center.


1:08 p.m.

Loden, “This has been an exciting week. At the MSBA (Mississippi School Boards Association) conference, very few entire boards attend, but our entire board was able to attend…” Also said the highlight was having the district recognized with a Lighthouse award based on its test scores from last year.


Prather: “Last year I was steaming when they recognized other districts and said we are the type of district that needs to be recognized. It felt so good when we were recognized and I want to thank all of the teachers and administrators that worked so hard for that.”

Prather said there was a session with the legislators talking about the upcoming session. He said they referenced the Florida model, in which students would be held back if they were not able to read after third grade. The problem, he said, is that Florida funds early childhood education, so those children would have five years to learn, compared to three or four in Mississippi (where kindergarten is not mandatory).

Board member Amy Heyer: “That was a little discouraging to hear some of their comments and it was really heated dialogue. It lets you know you really need to be involved.”

Board member Kenneth Wheeler said a big focus was the need for early childhood education. He said some board members asked some very serious questions about our children. “The message they should take back with them is someone is paying attention to what they are doing.”

Wheeler said in his session, the legislator only allowed 90 seconds for questions.

Loden: We heard from the House and Sentate education chairs. The topics were consolidation, charter schools, funding being level and retaining third graders. It was almost like an anti-education message.

Heyer said they also mentioned shortening the school year and did not talk at all about early childhood education.

1:18 p.m.

Assistant Superintendent Kim Britton is presenting about a visit to the International Center for Leadership’s Conference in Nashville. That is Bill Daggett’s organization.

1:20 p.m.

Assistant Superintendent Diana Ezell will make a presentation on discipline trends.

First 9-weeks over the last three years. The number of incidents has decreased over the last three years. Not including buses, it has gone from 1,509 incidents in 2010 to 1,540 last year to 731 this year. That data is for the first 9-weeks. Including buses, incidents have gone from 1,707 to 1,773 to 933.

The high school 63 percent decline in incidents without buses (compared to last year). The middle school had a 53 percent decline and Milam had a  65 percent decline. Overall the district declined by 53 percent.

Rob Hudson said the data is very helpful. “We are measuring this now and everyone is looking at it…What is it that triggers a referral or defines a referral?”

Ezell said a referral is when someone refers a student to the principal. An incident is something like a fight, there may be multiple students involved, but it only counts as one incident.

Hudson: “I want to be sure we can look at the data and support in other ways…if a teacher said I am sending you to principal’s office, it is showing up here, right? If principal sends the student back to the classroom, it would still count as a referral, right?”

Ezell said, that is correct.

Hudson: It is important that the data shows that what is happening at the classroom level is improving, not just how we are classifying things. Are there other things we have that support this as well?

Ezell said Response to Intervention data would support it too. She said they use this information to determine tiers. The district is still working to tighten up definitions, such as difference between a fight and an assault.

Hudson: If behind this data, it lines up with what we hear from students and teachers, that makes me feel good. I know when we do this, we would expect temptation for people at building level to make data look good. I’m more concerned that behaviors change than data.

Ezell: I think there is an accountability that would keep that from happening.

Hudson said that because of block, he is hearing from the high school, students don’t see anyone any more, they are just in class. Well, that is a good thing.

“I real encouraged by what we see here and I’m cautioning all of us to be sure it is valid…That is not saying anything negative, that is just the nature of preliminary numbers.”

Heyer: We have things in place that would make sense for the numbers to go down, the block, teaching bell to bell, etc.

Ezell said she believes students are taking the common assessments more seriously now that they count for a 9-week exam grade.

Ezell said tardies and attendance is removed from this data. Loden said that tardies are lower on the block because there are fewer periods. He said that if teachers are teaching well on the block and engaging students, referrals will increase because class periods are longer.

Hudson said, we want to be able to say we think this data is accurate because here are some things we have done.

Ezell said the anonymous suggestion box is a way teachers could say if they felt unhappy with the way discipline was being handled.

Hudson said it is encouraging to see improvement at secondary schools.

Loden: “We have for the first time in several years had the drug dogs back. Will have them at the secondary schools. They visited the high school yesterday. We did not find any drugs at the high school, which was a good sign.”


Board is discussing future agenda topics. In December, it will discuss its dyslexia program and the superintendent evaluation. In January, it will discuss the Response to Intervention, building and grounds update and new teacher induction update.

1:40 p.m.

The board will go into executive session.