Lee County improves scores, keeps rating

Education stockBy Chris Kieffer

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Despite growth in test scores, the Lee County School District maintained its “C” ranking for the fifth consecutive year.

The district’s test scores actually moved it into the range to be a “B” district, but it was held back by its graduation rate.

Lee County’s Quality of Distribution Index, which is based on how well students score on state tests, rose by eight points to 170.

“I’m very happy with the eight-point growth,” Superintendent Jimmy Weeks said. “I’m disappointed for the teachers and principals we were not a “B” district.

“It goes back to graduation rate. It is not a short-term solution. We had a lot in place last year and this year to improve that. I expect our graduation rate to go up next year, and with QDI gains, it is very likely we will be a ‘High Performing’ district.”

Since the MDE switched to its new accountability model in 2009, the Lee County School District has been ranked a “Successful” school district. A new state law uses letter grades for school rankings, converting “Successful” districts to a “C” grade. “High Performing” is now a “B” grade.

The Mississippi Department of Education released district and school rankings on Friday, although the State Board of Education is expected to officially approve them today.

The rankings are based on the results of state tests taken during the 2012-13 school year. They were determined by the QDI and by whether students made a year’s worth of growth on those tests. Districts and high schools also were evaluated by their graduation rates.

To have earned a “B,” Lee County would have needed a five-year graduation rate above 75 percent or a four-year rate of 71 percent. It had a five-year rate of 69 percent and a four-year rate of 68 percent.

Weeks said the district has added special “boot camps” to help students who need to pass a state test in order to graduate and that it will expand those this year. It is also exploring various incentives that reward attendance.

“We’ll do anything we can do to motivate kids to stay in school and get their diplomas,” he said. “We are stressing the importance of a high school diploma with students and parents.”

Last year, Lee County had two “A” schools – Mooreville and Saltillo High Schools – but both fell to “B” this year. Saltillo actually raised its QDI by six points, but its 72 percent four-year graduation rate needed to be one percentage point higher.

“We took a lot of pride in that, and it hurt our feelings we lost it,” Weeks said. “The principals are doing everything they can to get the ‘A’ rating back.”

Lee County’s largest growth was Verona Elementary, which raised its QDI by 31 points to move from “F” to “C.” Saltillo Elementary raised its QDI by 21 points and rose from “C” to “B.”

The district had five “B” schools, which also included Guntown and Mooreville Middle. It had three “C” schools, two “D” schools and one “F.” Plantersville, which was rated “D” last year fell to “F.”

Weeks noted it was a tumultuous year at Plantersville, after former Principal Bill Horton died of a heart attack in December. He said the district is working hard to improve that this year.

Shannon Middle School rose from “D” to “C,” and Mooreville Middle from “C” to “B.”

chris.kieffer@journalinc.com