By Monique Harrison

Daily Journal

Of Mississippi’s 153 school districts, only Pontotoc City Schools now holds claim to a perfect 5.0 accreditation rating, Mississippi Department of Education projections show.

Corinth, Clinton and Ocean Springs all dropped to 4.9 ratings this year, failing to meet one of the 38 standards required by the Mississippi Department of Education for Level 5 accreditation.

Thee other Northeast Mississippi school districts are also among the top 10, with Booneville receiving a 4.9.

The Booneville district, which is located in Prentiss County, went from a Level 3 to a Level 4.9 this year, representing one of the area’s largest jumps.

Tupelo Public Schools received a 4.7, along with Pontotoc County Schools.

For Tupelo, the news came as a pleasant surprise.

“In reality, there was a point when we’d wondered if we could get to a Level 5 in the next few years,” said Superintendent of Education Mike Vinson. “To learn that we’d made a 4.7 was exciting. We didn’t anticipate making that much progress in just a year. It gives us hope that a 5 is very possible.”

Director of Curriculum David Meadows was equally enthusiastic about the district’s move from a 3.0 to a 4.7

“Honestly, I’d been hoping for something right around four,” Meadows said Tuesday, after presenting the accreditation report during the Tupelo School Board’s regular meeting. Meadows said he couldn’t put his finger on exactly what brought about the improvement.

“I think we’re doing a lot of things right,” he said. “We have teachers who work very, very hard. And our students work hard. That’s who should get the credit for this.”

More specific ratings

This is the first year the state has used a revamped system that requires Level 3 schools to meet 35 standards instead of the original 13.

The revamped system also provides for a more specific numerical scale.

For example, instead of simply receiving a rating of 2, a district may now receive a rating of 2.0 through 2.9.

Accreditation ratings are based on two sets of standards – process and performance.

Process standards gauge tangible goals, like the quality of a district’s facilities or bus system. Performance standards rely heavily on test scores, including the ACT, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Functional Literacy Exam. Dropout rates are also considered.

At Corinth, the lackluster performance of this year’s freshman class on the integrated language portion of the Test of Academic Performance caused a drop.

But Corinth Superintendent Wayne Gann said he thinks the shortfall is the result of a scoring error.

“We are checking with the testing company and with the Mississippi Department of Education,” Gann said. “There seems to be an inconsistency here – a problem with the norming of the test.”

Gann said the district’s ninth-graders did well on other language-related portions of the test, which is administered to freshmen in the fall while other students are taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

“There should be a correlation between the two sets of scores, and there simply wasn’t,” he said. “We hope something can be determined.”

Ocean Springs has filed a similar complaint, Gann said.

Correcting problems

The accreditation ratings will not become official until March 8, after the Office of Accreditation has checked the process standards of schools that had shortcomings last year.

Many of the districts found lacking in these areas were given until March to correct the problem.

No Northeast Mississippi Schools had process standard shortfalls last year, Mississippi Department of Education officials said.

One Northeast Mississippi district was in the bottom 10.

Clay County Schools – which received a rating of 2 last year – was given a rating of 1.4. Only three other schools had lower scores.

Even North Panola, the bankrupt district taken over by the state earlier this year, fared slightly better, receiving a 1.5.

But Clay County Superintendent James Wicks didn’t expect the district to show any improvement this year.

“We have problems and they are things that we have to work on slowly,” Wicks said earlier this month, when speculating on his small district’s accreditation perform-ance.”We are in the process of evaluating now. We are going to make some changes and I believe improvements will come.”

Encouraging news

Several other struggling Northeast Mississippi schools received more encouraging news.

Four of the nine area schools placed on probation last year after receiving Level 2 status have managed to pull themselves out of the at-risk category.

Calhoun County, Marshall County, North Tippah and Okolona all made enough gains in test scores to reach the Level 3 status, which is considered average.

Aberdeen and Chickasaw County missed the mark by only one-tenth of a point, receiving 2.9 ratings.

Benton County and Holly Springs – the two other districts that fell in the at-risk category – showed less improvement, remaining at the lower end of the Level 2 mark.

Level 2 schools are automatically placed on probation and are subject to a state takeover if they do not meet state-mandated standards within a given time frame.

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